Are penguins the queerest animals?
Nothing warms our hearts like a story about gay penguins.
The latest couple to show the world that love is love are Sphen and Magic. A pair of male Gentoo penguins that live at Sea Life aquarium in Sydney, Sphen and Magic have already successfully fostered an egg – Baby Sphengic recently celebrated her first birthday.
Sphengic was the first sub-Antarctic penguin to be born at the aquarium since the colony arrived in November 2016.
With their relationship as strong as ever, Sphen and Magic have been entrusted by aquarium staff with another egg to foster.
“They’re fantastic parents – both very loyal and protective…” confirmed Tish Hannan of Sea Life. “Baby Sphengic, who turned one on 19 October, had an excellent start to life under their care. While she’s still a bundle of energy and very loud, she’s matured nicely.”
Skipper and Ping
We’re also keeping a close eye on the penguins at Berlin Zoo.
Skipper and Ping are 10-year-old King Penguins. They were moved to Berlin Zoo from Hamburg Zoo in April of this year, and have been an inseparable couple ever since.
According to the zoo’s staff, Skipper and Ping had been giving off paternal signals for a while, trying to hatch stones in their quest to start a family.
When an egg was abandoned by the zoo’s female King Penguin, staff gave Skipper and Ping the opportunity to put their parenting skills to the test.
“We just had to put it on the feet of one of the guys, and he already knew what to do…” said zookeeper Norbert Zahmel. “They behaved like model parents, taking turns to keep the egg warm by nestling it on their feet under a flap of belly skin.”
Unfortunately, the egg turned out not to be fertile, and Skipper and Ping’s quest for fatherhood remains unfulfilled.
The Berlin Zoo is home to a colony of six King Penguins, but only have one female. The zoo hasn’t had a successful King Penguin hatching since 2002.
Are penguins the queerest animals?
It’s quite common for penguins to form same-sex couples, both in the wild and in captivity. Roy and Silo of New York City’s Central Park Zoo are among the most famous gay penguins – the Chinstrap Penguins successfully hatched an egg in 1999, their chick was called Tango.
What about giraffes?
“Ninety per cent of giraffes are gay…” declared Dawn Butler – the Labour Party’s spokesperson for women and equalities – speaking at an awards event earlier this month. “Let’s just accept people for who they are and live as our true, authentic selves.”
However, not everyone is convinced by Butler’s assessment.
“While I totally agree with Dawn Butler’s comment that we should accept people for who they are, she is incorrect in her comment that giraffes are gay…” said Stephanie Fennessy, director of the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Namibia. “Sometimes they fake-hump each other, which is also dominance behaviour. Dogs do that as well. And when you see them necking, it’s fighting. It’s vicious. They can kill each other.”
But the debate about whether giraffes are queer isn’t clear cut.
“At the moment, I don’t think we have enough research to know why the males do it…” said Dr Natalie Cooper – a researcher in life sciences at the Natural History Museum. “There are usually females around, so it’s not just because there are no females.”
According to Cooper’s understanding of giraffe research, same-sex necking, licking, nuzzling and mounting between male giraffes is not always an aggressive act. Indeed, it may not be aggressive at all, and sometimes includes genital stimulation.
As a species, giraffes don’t form couples of any kind. Adult females live together in herds, and only mate with the transient males who manage to be dominant enough, or surreptitious enough, to visit them at the right time.
“Giraffes don’t have a sexual orientation…” adds Cooper. “That’s a human thing.”