Two toddlers join Ocean Park's penguin parade

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 15 February, 2011, 12:00am

Like proud parents, the staff of Ocean Park yesterday announced the birth of two penguins, the first bred in captivity in Hong Kong.

The Gentoo penguins join the park's other 51 penguins, which are expected to meet the public next year.

The first baby, which made its media debut yesterday, was born on December 31. 'Its parents came from Japan, so we named it Ichiko, meaning 'the first one' in Japanese,' the senior curator of terrestrial life sciences, Howard Chuk Hau-chung, said.

The park has not yet been able to determine the baby's gender.

Ichiko weighed 70 grams when hatched and is being raised and fed by its parents, eating half-digested fish delivered mouth-to-mouth.

Meanwhile, the second baby, born on January 25, does not have the good fortune to have a family.

'Its parents just walked away,' said Chuk, who said this was quite natural behaviour. 'A baby penguin's survival rate in the wild is no more than 50 per cent,' he said.

The abandoned egg was hatched in an incubator and the baby is being fed fish via a syringe. It is being gradually introduced to lower temperatures and is expected to join the other penguins when it is three months old. It will then live at temperatures of five to eight degrees Celsius, similar to the temperatures in the species' native sub-Antarctic habitat.

The little orphan still does not have a name and the park is considering letting the public name it.

The park introduced one batch of penguins from Japan in 2009 and one from the US last year. They comprise three species, King, Gentoo and Rockhopper. Since they arrived, six eggs have been laid; three were fertilised and these are the first two to hatch.

'We hope to double the population through an in-house breeding programme,' Ocean Park chairman Allan Zeman said.

Penguins lay one or two eggs each year in their native habitat. They can live up to 30 years in captivity.

The penguins will go on parade for the public when the park's new Polar Adventure attraction opens in April or May next year.

Zeman said two new attractions, one exhibiting rainforest animals and one with thrill rides, would open this year.

During the Lunar New Year, the park saw 380,000 visitors from February 3 to 13, up 30 per cent on the same period last year. It had to stop selling tickets for three consecutive days, February 5 to 7.

Zeman said the park had always limited visitor capacity to 33,000 at a time, 90 per cent of the maximum capacity.

During the holiday period, 74 per cent of visitors were tourists, but the number of local visitors rose by 70 per cent in year-on-year comparisons.