Our Humboldt penguin chicks have been given a clean bill of health following a recent round of health checks.
The checks, which form a routine part of the care penguin chicks receive at the zoo, are designed to check they are growing as expected and don’t have any health issues.
Our Acting Veterinary Services Manager, Dr Sarah Jayne Smith, said: “We give all penguin chicks that are hatched at Marwell a health check and we try and do this before they leave the nest.
“I listen to their heart and their respiratory system with a stethoscope – birds have a very complicated but interesting respiratory system that’s different from mammals; they have lungs and air sacs.”
The checks were carried out shortly before the first of our group of youngsters fledged its nest and joined the rest of the colony by the pool. Guests now have a far greater chance of spotting the chicks as they start to join the adults and spend less time in their burrows.
Dr Smith continued: “I check the colour inside their mouths as that gives me an indication of how efficiently their heart and respiratory system are working, and I can also check that their beak and tongue looks ok. I feel their stomach (coelom) to make sure their organs feel normal and check the condition of their feathers and feet before the keepers put them on the scales to find out how much they weigh.
“I also take a small blood sample from a vein in the chick’s foot. I send this away to find out if our chicks are boys or girls – it can be very hard to tell in penguins, even when they are adults. Finally, we inject a small microchip between the chick’s shoulder blades, just like your vet would for your cat or dog. The microchip contains a unique number which helps us identify the penguin as it grows up.”
The chicks were also given coloured armbands which help the keepers to identify them on sight.
Humbolt penguins are native to the coasts of Chile and Peru and are listed as vulnerable to extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species with populations decreasing.