The Curraghs Wildlife Park has welcomed some new residents, with help from the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.
The park in Ballaugh took delivery of six Humboldt penguins from the Beauval Zoo in France as part of its participation in international breeding programmes. The penguins travelled to the Isle of Man on Ben-my-Chree as part of the Steam Packet Company’s ongoing support for the Wildlife Park.
Humboldt penguins, which are found off the South American coastline and on the beaches of Chile and Peru, are considered vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list with wild populations fluctuating around 12,000, although accurate numbers are difficult to collate so numbers could be far less. They are vulnerable to overfishing, reduction in fish stocks due to warming oceans, nest raiding by dogs and foxes for eggs and humans use of the guano (excrement) penguins nest in as fertiliser.
The Wildlife Park’s six new arrivals are all under two-years-old and join 15 long-time resident Humboldt penguins.
Park General Manager Kathleen Graham explained: ‘We want our penguin colony to be a breeding colony and the bigger the colony, the better they breed. Our colony has been aging and they are all 11 to 18-years-old with just one seven-year-old at the moment, so these new young ones will help boost our breeding chances now the colony is up in size again. We have also renewed the nesting area to be greatly improved to increase the chances of them successfully rearing chicks.
‘Penguins mate for life, well mostly, and although we have seven established pairs, if a penguin’s partner dies they will pick a new partner. Just occasionally, they will “divorce” and pick a new partner while their longstanding mate is still alive. These six youngsters are three boys and three girls and they haven’t paired up yet, but they should by next year.’
Kathleen added: ‘It took 36 hours from France in a temperature-controlled van and, when we arrived, customs were at the park to check the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora paperwork. Then we just let them out and they went straight for the pool. They have been getting on really well in their new home and with their new colony mates.’
There are around 2,500 Humboldt penguins in the captive European Endangered Species Programme (EEP) and they are spread over many European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) locations. EAZA zoos loan and donate animals according to the studbook keepers’ recommendations; animals are not bought or sold. It is this kind of cooperation that has allowed breeding programmes to expand to be genetically healthy.
The Curraghs Wildlife Park gained its EAZA status again in 2016 after going through the reaccreditation process.
Kathleen said: ‘We are really grateful to the Steam Packet Company for again giving us assisted rates as, although we don’t buy animals, we still have to pay for transport costs, which can mount up.’
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Chief Executive Mark Woodward added: ‘The Curraghs Wildlife Park is one of the Isle of Man’s leading visitor attractions, for tourists and locals and does sterling work helping safeguard endangered species, like these Humboldt penguins.
‘We are always pleased to play our part in assisting the park as it participates in breeding programmes which not only benefit species, but also brings new animals to the Island for people to see and learn about conservation.’