CUTE ALERT: A grid helped Riverbanks deliver three new baby Penguins

CUTE ALERT: A grid helped Riverbanks deliver three new baby Penguins

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - There are three new members of the penguin family at Riverbanks Zoo.

Home to three different kinds of penguins, Riverbanks has seven Gentoo penguins, three King penguins and now 20 Rockhopper penguins.

That number was at 17 before three Rockhopper penguin eggs hatched in June as part of the species survival plan (SSP). Their arrival is part of a prescription for love.

"The SSP gives us instructions in the form of what we call a mate RX or a mate prescription," Colleen Lynch, Riverbanks's bird curator, said.

The mate RX is actually a grid that scores mating possibilities by pairs. Keepers say a good score means the eggs will hatch, and a bad score means keepers remove the eggs before an embryo can begin to develop.

"So we get guidance from the zoos and aquariums on which chicks are needed to maintain a healthy population," Lynch said. "We want to make sure that every family that came into zoos is maintained in zoos. Genetic diversity is maximized when all of the families are represented and well-represented."

This year the grid helped lead to three new additions born on June 17, 19, and 21.  Each chick is the apple of their penguin parents' eyes.

"So if one parent is out and about like it's coming out to exercise or to eat, then the other parent is always on the nest with the chick," Lynch said.

The chicks have remained on exhibit with their moms and dads on the nest, but Riverbanks keepers wanted to do a check-up on the newborns and allowed us to witness it.

"We want to see that the chicks are gaining weight appropriately, that they look healthy and that the parents are taking care of them," Lynch said.

When taking them off exhibit, keepers wrap the chicks in a blanket to simulate being under mom and dad in the nest. They take them out of the blanket quickly for their exam by senior veterinarian Dr. Martha Webber.

"She's going to check eyes, ears, nose, and mouth," Lynch said.

The Penguins don't have names just yet. Each chick is color-coded and keepers will soon know if they're male or female.

"We can actually use the eggshell, and we will send that to a lab and they will do a DNA check to tell us if it's a boy or a girl," Lynch said.

One-by-one, each chick, purple, orange and green all got their examinations with a few minor concerns.

"The oldest chick had a little bit of crustiness around his eyes, I think it was because he was close to his feeding time and hadn't cleaned up afterwards," Dr. Weber said. "But we will have staff keep an eye on that make sure that doesn't become a problem. The second chick had a little heart murmur which is not uncommon in penguin chicks, but again it's something we want to follow and make sure that that goes away over time. The third chick, the little guy pretty much looked perfectly perfect."

While all three will get weekly check-ups as they continue to grow, for now it's quickly back out on exhibit, to let mom and dad do their thing.

If you're at Riverbanks soon, you may be able to catch a peek of the chicks on their nest with their parents. However, the chicks will go off exhibit in their second month as they start to come off their nests. Keepers say that's because they don't know how to swim and they have down feathers at this stage in life.

So over the next month they will learn how to swim in a smaller pool and once they build up those waterproof feathers, they'll be back out on exhibit for everyone to see.

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