Stonington ― Two Mystic Aquarium penguins defy expectations for longevity and health under the care of a dedicated team of experts.
A colony of 32 African penguins inhabit the aquarium, and two identified as “Red Green” and “Red Pink” have been here since the beginning.
The aquarium does not name its penguins, opting to call them by the colored plastic beads on their tags that refer to numbers.
Red Green, a 35-year-old, seven-month-old African penguin can be recognized by the two red and two green beads on his tag, which correspond to the number 03. Red Green was the third penguin to arrive at the aquarium when the habitat opened its doors in 1989. Another colony member, Red Pink, a little younger at 35, was the ninth penguin to arrive.
“The median lifespan in the open ocean is only 15 years, but even the median age in zoos and aquariums is 17,” said Tracy Camp, the aquarium’s penguin supervisor.
In fact, Red Green is the oldest male penguin living in one of the 51 facilities that make up the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in the United States, although he still has eight years to go before breaking the 43-year record. .
More than half of the aquarium’s penguin colony is already past the median lifespan of the species, which is native to South Africa and Namibia, including Red Green’s mate who is almost 35 years old. African penguins mate for life and the two have been together for over thirty years.
“It is not because they are old that we are not going to treat them. What’s really important to us here is that we really take care of our animals to the best of our abilities and if there’s something they need then we’ll get it for them.” said Dr. Chelsea Anderson, Chief Clinical Veterinarian.
At the aquarium, the nesting season begins in mid-December when the birds will begin to prepare their nests for the eggs which will take between 38 and 42 days to hatch.
“Hopefully by spring we might have some new additions to the colony – maybe even a Red Green chick here, the oldest male in the country,” Camp said.
The penguins receive intensive care. Their varied diet includes herring, anchovies and squid, which they swallow whole as they have no teeth. They receive top quality health care, including laser therapy and even acupuncture.
“It shows what you can do to take care of animals when you have world-class care, an amazing vet team that they won’t go through with – and the proof is in the pudding when you have birds. that far exceed their expected lifespan,” Camp said.
In fact, Red Pink, who doesn’t have the distinction of being the oldest at just 35, is remarkable in his own right, as he recently underwent treatment for melanoma.
In April, the penguin team noticed a bump on his face near his beak and reported it to the veterinary team. A biopsy confirmed it was melanoma.
“When we first noticed the mass and went down this route, it was acting no different; he was fine, but if this lump kept growing and we didn’t do anything, it was about to encroach on his brain,” Anderson said.
She added that Red Pink was also at risk of losing her sight and suffering from neurological complications.
Red Pink was treated by a veterinary oncologist in Boston with four cycles of radiation therapy and a melanoma vaccine developed for dogs. At the end of his treatment, he was given a “cancer survivor” cape and his name was put on the wall among the names of other patients at the veterinary clinic, mostly cats and dogs.
“Have we cured him? I don’t know,” said Anderson, who noted that the mass had gotten much smaller, and they would know more when he had another CT scan six months after treatment.
African penguins are an endangered species and the 10,000 breeding pairs left in the wild represent only 3% of their historical number.