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Necropsy results pending on zoo penguin

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A King penguin marches towards an outdoor enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo. One out of a group of 10 King penguins similar to this one, died last week at the ABQ BioPark Zoo. Three species of penguins are now residents of the BioPark Zoo’s Penguin Chill exhibit, which is gearing up for a public opening to be announced soon. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A necropsy has been performed and tissue samples have been sent to a lab to help determine how a 2-year-old King penguin named James died at the ABQ BioPark Zoo.

James was found dead around midday in a holding space last Thursday in the Penguin Chill building, where he, nine other King penguins, 10 Macaroni penguins and 12 Gentoo penguins are being held before being introduced into the main exhibit area for public viewing, ABQ BioPark director Baird Fleming said during a Monday news conference.

The King penguins had arrived from SeaWorld in Orlando just eight days before. King penguins generally live from 15 to 20 years in the wild and longer in captivity. The Macaroni and Gentoo penguins previously arrived from SeaWorld in San Diego. All three of the species at the BioPark Zoo are native to the Antarctic and Southern Hemisphere regions.

Staffers, who spend their entire shift with the penguins, except for one hour during their lunch break, returned to the holding area at 1 p.m. Thursday when they saw that James had died, Fleming said.

“We don’t know why, we don’t know what happened. We do know that he had been losing weight and we were monitoring him very closely, and he was on the upswing and had been eating his food for the past few days.”

James did have some abnormalities, including “what we think may have been a birth defect,” in the form of a twisted tongue, “but we don’t know if that had anything to do with his death,” Fleming said.

The other penguins all appear to be happy, healthy and safe, and there is no indication the now-deceased bird succumbed to a contagious disease. “They go through a rigorous screening process before being shipped, and once they get here they are closely monitored, so we don’t anticipate it was an infectious disease – but again, we don’t know for certain.”

Further, the birds have been on a prophylactic dose of an antifungal medication.

Fleming said getting the necropsy lab results can take anywhere from days to weeks, and they’re not always able to provide a definitive answer as to a cause of death.

The BioPark Zoo does not own any of the penguins. All are on loan from SeaWorld in San Diego and Orlando as part of the Species Survival Plan that is implemented at facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“We share animals in order to maintain the highest genetic sustainability in captive populations,” he explained. SeaWorld has been informed of the penguin’s death and is offering its support. There was no plan at this time to replace James with another King penguin, he added.

Fleming also said that the death of James will not affect the timeline for the public opening of the Penguin Chill exhibit, and an announcement may come as early as this week regarding a firm opening date.

The 15,000-square-foot building sits on a one-acre site landscaped to resemble the Argentine city of Ushuaia at the southern tip of South America. It was built at a cost of $16.2 million in public funding, with another $2 million raised by the New Mexico BioPark Society.

In other zoo news, Samantha, a 12-year-old female western lowland gorilla, who was recently located from the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas, is now out in her public exhibit space.

As part of the Species Survival Plan, two other resident BioPark Zoo gorillas have been relocated elsewhere. Tulivu, a female, has been sent to the Cincinnati Zoo, and Tulsa, also a female, has been relocated to the Cleveland Metro Parks Zoo. The intention is that both will eventually breed in their new respective troops.

In addition, two reticulated giraffes from the BioPark Zoo recently have been relocated. Jambazi, a male, has been sent to the Cape May County Zoo in New Jersey, while Malika, a female, is now at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in Nebraska, both recommended for breeding in their new herds.

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