ST. LOUIS– The St. Louis Zoo welcomes Opal, a new southern rockhopper penguin. She was the first successful hatch of this species at the Zoo in 11 years.
The penguin, named Opal by the public, was hatched on December 11, 2020 at the Penguin & Puffin Coast at the St. Louis Zoo. She had biological and foster parents that helped make her birth possible.
Opal’s mom, 18-year-old Star, laid an egg in a nest full of rocks and grasses built by dad, 18-year-old Rocky. Previously, Star and Rocky had problems incubating eggs on their own so Opal was moved to an artificial incubator to increase her chances of survival. Keepers even gave Star and Rocky a dummy egg so they could practice incubating.
The St. Louis Zoo says keepers monitored Opal’s growth for 32 days. Every three days, the egg was weighed and examined with bright light to see the embryo and vessels inside.
When Opal started to break through her shell, the bird care team knew it was time to move the egg under the parents. However, Star and Rocky made a nest located above open water and was too dangerous for the chick.
Instead, Opal also received some foster parents. She was placed in the nest of another pair of southern rockhopper penguins who were nesting in a safer location.
The foster parents produced their own egg around the same time, but it was not fertile. Once the chick was fully out of her egg, the foster parents fed her around the clock.
Opal’s biological parents will remain nearby in the same habitat so the chick will still know them as part of the larger colony.
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recommended the breeding as part of the Southern Rockhopper Species Survival Plan. It is a program to manage a genetically healthy population of the penguin in North American zoos.