Premature penguin saved by heroic keepers

When keepers checking the nestboxes on ZSL London Zoo’s Penguin Beach found one of this season’s eggs had been accidentally broken by its parents, they were astonished to find a tiny chick still alive inside.

Quick-thinking keepers knew the delicate Humboldt penguin chick – nicknamed Rainbow - wouldn’t survive without help, so they rushed her to the Zoo’s onsite vet clinic, where the heroic vet team sprang into action.

ZSL penguin keeper Suzi Hyde explains: “The chick had a little way to go before she should have hatched, so it was very much touch and go – but we knew we had to get her safely out of the shell and into an incubator to give her a fighting chance.”

ZSL vets carefully set about removing bits of shell from around the tiny chick with tweezers until she could be gently lifted out and laid in a makeshift nest - before being transferred to the custom-built incubation room in the colony’s home on Penguin Beach.

“We were overjoyed when she started begging for food by opening her mouth wide and making tiny squawks. It was the first sign that she might just make it.”

Rainbow spent the next few weeks cosying up to a cuddly toy penguin under the warming glow of a heat lamp and being hand-fed three times a day with a special diet of blended fish, vitamins and minerals – referred to by ZSL London Zoo’s bird keepers as ‘penguin milkshake’.

Rainbow with her cuddly toy penguin

“Rainbow’s bodyweight has steadily increased by around 20 per cent every day, so she’s growing extremely quickly,” said Suzi. “She’s always eager for her next meal and makes sure we know it’s feeding time – she may be only weeks old but she’s definitely perfected her squawk already.

“Penguins do accidentally step on their eggs, which – even if the chick survives – invariably leads to them rejecting the infant. Luckily a combination of heroic keepers and a very plucky chick meant that Rainbow will be splashing around in Penguin Beach with the rest of the colony this summer.”

The one-month-old chick is expected to stay in the incubation room until she reaches 10-weeks-old, by which time she should have grown from 73g at hatch, to around 3kg in weight.

She’ll then move into the Zoo’s specially-designed ‘penguin nursery’, which includes a shallow pool for swimming lessons, before eventually being introduced to the other 80 penguins and their 1500 sq metre pool – the largest in the UK.

ZSL is celebrating its heroic staff and the 19,000 super animals they care for all summer at Superhero Academy - a brand new family adventure launching on Saturday 21 July.

Superhero Academy at ZSL London Zoo is free with zoo entry. Book ahead and save 10%. 

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