Having quickly bulked up, two African penguin chicks made their public debut Wednesday at the Minnesota Zoo.
The males, born March 2 and March 21, joined their adult counterparts on exhibit, giving visitors their first chance to see the newest members of this endangered species.
Patrons at the zoo in Apple Valley can now see the chicks starting to take on that “formal” appearance, but it will be many more months until the little critters lose the last of their fluffy gray exterior and fully make that tuxedo fashion statement: black back, face, wings, feet and beak to go with a white front and crown.
The eldest chick, weighing just less than 7 pounds, likes to swim and has taken to following the zookeepers around, said zoo spokeswoman Kelly Lessard.
The younger chick weighs about 6 pounds and is already trying to “bray” like an adult penguin — sounding like a cross between a gull and a squeaky toy, Lessard added.
The older chick has a blue band on its wing, while the smaller one has a yellow band.
The arrival of the chicks — which weighed in at just a few ounces — were a first for the species’ exhibit since it opened in 2011. The hatchings bring the exhibit’s African penguin population to 23.
African penguins are native to the continent’s southwest coast and grow to be 26 to 28 inches tall and 6 to 9 pounds.
As is the case with all types of penguins, the African variety is endangered in the wild. Oil spills, hunting and habitat destruction have killed 80 percent of its population in the past 50-plus years.
Some 150,000 pairs of African penguins were counted in 1956, when the first full census of the species was conducted. In 2009, 26,000 pairs were counted, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482