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African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library fact sheet for the African penguin, Spheniscus demersus

History of Managed Care

North American zoos (from Rutgers and Norris 1970)

  • Earliest record in 1913 from Philadelphia Zoo
  • One of the most common penguin species in zoos

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

  • First housed African penguins in 1946
    • Maintained on and off until mid-1970s, when last individual was transferred to another facility
    • One individual lived at the zoo for 16 years

Breeding in Managed Care

Breeding and rearing

  • Breed readily (from Henry and Sirpenski 2005 unless otherwise noted)
    • First bred at the London Zoo in 1905 (Rutgers and Norris 1970)
    • Populations in North American Zoos have been known to breed in every month of the year under natural lighting conditions
    • May produce up to three clutches per year
  • Reproduction in managed care similar to that of wild birds (from Henry and Sirpenski 2005)
    • Interval between eggs of the same clutch
      • 3-4 days
    • Incubations begins immediately
      • Lasts for 36-42 days (mean of 38 days)
    • Pip-to-Hatch time
      • 24-48 hours
  • Housing
    • Corrals are sometimes used to isolate reproductive pairs from unpaired birds (Henry and Sirpenski 2005)
      • Minimizes aggression and attempts by unmated pairs to steal mates, eggs, or chicks
    • Birds may self-construct burrows or be provided with artificial nest covers (Henry and Sirpenski 2005)
  • Chick imprinting
    • Hand-reared birds may become imprinted and develop a preference for human companionship (Henry and Sirpenski 2005)
    • Imprinting does not prevent an individual's future breeding success
    • May impact social skills with other penguins



  • Offered a variety of fishes (Crissey et al. 2005)
  • Can be accustomed to take dead fish (Rutgers and Norris 1970)
  • Supplemented with multivitamins, vitamin E, and Thiamin (Crissey et al. 2005)

Behavioral Management

Behavioral enrichment (Ellis 2005)

  • Locomotor stimuli
    • Variable water currents
    • Exhibit furniture
      • Sawhorses
      • Underwater obstacles
    • Penguins tend to respond with curiosity to novel objects

Penguin Health Exams


At the San Diego Zoo, newly arrived African Penguins receive a thorough health screening before joining the penguin colony at the Africa Rocks! exhibit.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Crissey et al. (2005)
Ellis (2005)
Henry and Sirpenski (2005)
Rutgers and Norris (1970)

SDZWA Library Links