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Celebrating Rosamond Gifford Zoo’s First Same-Sex Penguin Pair

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Having grown up in Syracuse, NY, I’m no stranger to Rosamond Gifford Zoo. If I look through old photo albums, I’m sure to see countless pictures of my sister and I visiting as kids. I’m sure many other Oswego students, whether they’re from Syracuse or not, have visited Rosamond Gifford too, as it’s one of the closest zoos to the college. I know we have a lot of zoology majors here!

I was absolutely delighted to learn from a post by the zoo on Instagram (@syracusezoo) that on January 1, the first egg raised by a same-sex pair of penguins at this zoo had hatched! Talk about a great start to the new year. The post further reports that in addition to successfully incubating the egg, the foster parents have since been successfully caring for the baby penguin. The foster parents are male penguins named Lima and Elmer.

The world is no stranger to gay pairs of penguins, both in nature and in zoos all over the world. Most well-known are Roy and Silo, parents of Tango, at the Central Park Zoo. They became famous after the publication of Peter Parnell and Justin Richardon’s children’s book, And Tango Makes Three. Lima and Elmer may not be as famous (yet!), but articles about their new foster parent status have been published by The Washington Post, NPR, and CNN, among many more. 

However, not everyone has been as happy for the new parents as I am. Due to Elmer and Lima’s features in so many well known news sources, the Syracuse Zoo has gotten a considerable amount of national attention. When I go back and look at the post from January 28 announcing the new penguin’s hatching, I’m now shocked and horrified to see the amount of hatred being spewed in the comments. As pleased as I am to see people all over the country reading about the zoo I grew up going to, the considerable attention has led homophobic Internet trolls back to the announcement post, too. 

The post currently has well over 1,000 likes, much higher than the zoo averages on a post, and over 100 comments. While many commenters are supportive (shoutout to my and my sister’s friends for coming together to each comment something nice when we told them), an unfortunate amount are making homophobic remarks, criticizing the zoo, or making uninformed accusations. It is evident that most of those people have not read the zoo’s official release, or any of the articles reporting on it. 

Some accuse the zoo of only giving the two male penguins an egg to make a statement in favor of gay rights. The zoo certainly supports the LGBTQ+ community, but that is not why they gave Elmer and Lima the egg. These penguins are Humboldt penguins, which are classified as vulnerable. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to the zoo that eggs survive and thrive in order to help the population grow. The zoo has, on a number of occasions, given eggs to foster parents that are deemed to have better odds at incubating the egg because some penguin parents aren’t as skilled at caring for their eggs. Potential fosters are tested by being given fake eggs to see how well they’ll do. 

In the past, Rosamond Gifford Zoo has always had male-female foster parent pairs; it just so happened that this fall, in preparation for mating season, two male penguins bonded, built a nest, and laid claim to their territory. Elmer and Lima chose to mate without any outside influence. After they were tested and deemed good parents to the fake egg, the zoo gave them the egg of less-successful birth parents, just as they would’ve for a male-female foster pair. Elmer and Lima were not just some experiment or statement—they were given the egg because the zoo’s goal is to help the Humboldt penguin species’ population grow, and they were the best penguins for the job. 

Some commenters claim to understand the above, but question the zoo’s expertise. I can’t help but wonder why they think they know more about raising penguins than the zoo! However, I do understand that many people have a distrust of zoos in general, believing them to be unethical; there are definitely zoos that don’t have animals’ best interest at heart. However, Rosamond Gifford Zoo is accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). That is the highest standard of accreditation possible for zoos. An AZA accredited zoo has to go through a rigorous process to become accredited and then pass inspection every five years to maintain accreditation. Not just any zoo is accredited—less than 10% of licensed animal exhibitors in the US are.

One of the main goals of the AZA and any zoo accredited through it is conservation of animals. One way zoos work towards this goal is AZA Species Survival Plan programs. The Syracuse zoo participates in a number of these programs, including the one for Humboldt penguins. They’ve been a part of the plan for about 17 years now. This means that not only do the most recognized experts in animal care approve of Rosamond Gifford Zoo, the zoo is also extremely careful and conscientious when its animals breed. According to the AZA website, the Species Survival Plan “works to ensure genetically diverse, self-sustaining populations” in its breeding and conservation efforts. 

I, myself, am no penguin expert. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I do take joy in hearing about gay penguins, especially at the zoo I always go to. However, I recognize that the most important thing is the preservation of animals and their welfare. I wholeheartedly trust that the zoo is doing what’s best for its animals without any kind of agenda, but it is blatant homophobia leading so many people to comment questioning the integrity of the zoo. 

Trust Rosamond Gifford Zoo and rejoice in knowing that a healthy, happy family of penguins was formed. I also urge you to follow the zoo on Instagram to see updates about its many adorable animals and fun events. Better yet, go visit the zoo! Tickets are only $5 for the rest of February because of the Snow Leopard Days deal. 

Olivia is a Creative Writing major and Live Event Design minor in her freshman year at SUNY Oswego. Besides for writing, she loves reading, playing violin, and being involved in tech theater. In her free time she likes to play with her three cats, hang out with friends, watch Netflix, and above all else, daydream.
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