MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — To get to know the penguins at the Como Zoo, first, find the humans.

“Each one of them has a different personality,” zookeeper Kelley Dinsmore said, as she pointed to the unapologetically spunky Amashi and the very social Cupid.

Dinsmore and her fellow zookeepers know these penguins like they’re family, and the African variety at Como Zoo know the meaning of family all on their own.

Unlike the all-too familiar Emperor penguin, with the father who takes care of the egg while the mother hunts, their African cousins are a bit more modern.

“Typically both females and males will raise a chick together,” Dinsmore said. “They take turns getting food and taking care of the chicks and sitting on the eggs. They do form very strong pair bonds.”

Just about all of them stick with one mate for the season. Some mate for life.

The why isn’t as poetic — it’s just how they’ve evolved.

(credit: CBS)

“And probably what has a lot to do with it, is rearing your offspring,” Dinsmore said. “You know, you’ll have one, maybe two eggs, but generally one egg, and you’re raising one chick. You want that chick to survive to carry on the species.”

That instinct has proven to be more challenging every year. African penguins are endangered, due in part from over-fishing their food, part climate change, and part of the reason why Dinsmore got involved.

“They went from 80,000 breeding pairs 30 years ago, to now 25,000 breeding pairs in the wild,” Dinsmore said. “So their numbers aren’t coming up.”

Como’s penguins don’t breed. Dinsmore calls them ambassadors for the species, helping an animal that might seem a world away feel right at home.

“We want people to understand what we can do here locally that will also impact animals globally and help them,” Dinsmore said.

Como Friends has a special sponsorship for Valentine’s Day to help the zoo’s efforts. You can learn more here.

Christiane Cordero

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