Zoo penguin couple breaks up

SAN FRANCISCO — Someone alert Perez Hilton: Harry and Pepper, the San Francisco Zoo’s long-term same-sex penguin couple, have split up. And you might say there’s a disreputable dame to blame.

The couple’s relationship began in 2003 and the breakup came as a shock to the couple’s zookeepers because Harry and Pepper, both Magellanic penguins, had long seemed one of the zoo’s happiest avian partnerships, according to zookeeper Anthony Brown.

The two black-and-white birds paired off when Harry, whom Brown described as outgoing, befriended Pepper, an introvert who sticks mostly to his burrow. At the time, the two were adolescents and everyone assumed they were just friends.

But soon they were nesting together. Harry would gather grass and bring it home to Pepper, who would arrange it tidily in their burrow, Brown said. Single females would come around, but both birds never seemed interested.

Last year, the pair was allowed to incubate and hatch an egg another penguin had laid.

“Of all of the parents that year, they were the best,” Brown said. “They took very good care of their chick. He ended up being the largest chick on the island.”

One could say that all seemed to be going swimmingly with Harry and Pepper.

Enter the recently widowed Linda, who has long had a reputation of sorts, according to Brown.

Several years ago, she left her longtime companion and moved in with much older Fig just hours after Fig’s partner passed away, Brown said.

“That was the fastest we’d ever seen penguins move on,” he said. “To be completely anthropomorphizing, Linda seems conniving. She’s got her plan. I don’t think she was wanting to be a single girl for too long.”

This year, within weeks of Fig passing away in winter, Harry was seen in Fig’s old burrow spending time with Linda, Brown said.

Then one day, Harry and Linda approached Pepper’s pen and confronted Pepper. Harry began attacking Pepper violently and the three ultimately had to be separated, Brown said.

Harry and Linda successfully nested this year and eventually Pepper was returned to the penguin exhibit from a bachelor pad at the Avian Conservation Center, where he quietly took up his old residence. Zookeepers and fans are waiting with bated breath to see what might happen next.

“That’s the big question,” Brown said. “It’s molting season in late July and early August, and around that time we see couples getting shaken up. It’ll be interesting to see if Harry spends any of that time with Pepper. We’ll have to wait and see.”

[via San Francisco Examiner]

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