A seaside zoo is to become an exclusive couples resort for penguins – just as Valentine’s Day looms.
Torquay’s coastal zoo and aquarium is currently home to more than 80 penguins of two species, African and macaroni.
The macaroni penguins, from the sub Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula, include five pairs, eight single males and two single females.
Most of the bachelors will move to another zoo in order to give the paired birds peace and privacy for breeding.
The transfer was decided at a meeting of penguin experts who decided to reduce the number of unpaired males.
Keepers at Living Coasts look after the studbook for the macaroni penguin.
“Unpaired males tend to disturb nesting birds, try to steal nesting material and even attempt to push out males and take their place,” said curator Clare Rugg.
“But this move is also based on genetics – zoos work hard to make sure we’re keeping a strong and healthy breeding group of any given species.
“It’s so important that places like Living Coasts bring people face-to-face with the natural world – that connection is key to saving species and habitats.”
Life on the beach has all the ingredients of a best-selling potboiler.
There is devotion, infidelity, reconciliation and lots of fish suppers and skinny-dipping.
The macaroni colony includes long-time pairings such as Flower and Spud, who were together for four years and have had two youngsters.
But in a sudden plot twist, Flower is now showing interest in footloose bachelor Solly.
Other pairs are comparatively new, like Flash and Macintosh, who have only been together since summer last year.
The African penguins – roughly 65 in total – include 30 males and 32 females. There are 18 established pairs. Penguins tend to mate for life, though they are not above the odd fling.
Keeper Jason Keller said he was hoping for more breeding success as a result of the moves.
“Macaroni breeding in recent years has not been ideal, as we have had too many males and also had a difficult age structure, with lots of very young birds and older birds and not enough of breeding age,” he said.
“This should really help.”
Macaroni penguins nest on rocky, pebbly beaches and tend to lay two eggs. The first is small and unlikely to hatch successfully and the second is usually the main egg.