Oldest penguin is a Scottish-Danish gentoo | Polarjournal
The penguin lady “Olde” lives in the Zoo in Danish Odense together with other sub-Antarctic penguin species. The 41-year-old female is listed officially in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest penguin in human care. Is the rockhopper in the foreground envious ? Photo: Odense Zoo

Gentoos are among the most common penguin species. The birds are also popular in zoos around the world because they are highly adaptable and have a wide range of food. In nature, their flexibility lets the animals turn 15 to 20 years old, quite a good age. But in zoos, gentoos can get twice as old. Since October 4 2020, the penguin lady “Olde” in Odense, Denmark, holds the world record with her 41 years and 141 days.

The record was officially certified by the “Guiness Book of World Records”. Despite her old age and now grey, no longer waterproof plumage, the jubilarian is still in good health, keeper Sandie Munck told the media. She doesn’t eat as much as she used to, but her favorite dish is herring, make up for the missing quantity. Because herring has a very high fat content and provides enough energy to get full without having to eat too much. To make sure she doesn’t have to fight with anyone about the fish, she gets her own feeding. “She is very quiet and calm. She’s never one to act out, either on other penguins or zookeepers, and never has been,” says Mette Heikel, the second penguin keeper. “Olde” (meaning “Great Grand-Mother”) lives in the zoo together with 10 other gentoos, 12 rockhoppers and 20 king penguins. This is similar to the situation in the Falkland Islands, where these three species also occur together.

The Falkland Islands are one of the northernmost distribution areas of the gentoos. Actually, they are a sub-Antarctic species, but they are now also breeding on the Antarctic continent. Since they have a wide food spectrum, they can colonize those areas abandoned by chinstraps and adélie penguins because of too little krill. Picture: Michael Wenger

The burly penguin lady has come a long way in her long life. She hatched at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland on May 16, 1979 and was first taken to Montreal, Canada, where she had lived for 23 years at the Biodome, a permanent exhibition on the theme of “nature” and “sustainability”. She then moved to the Odense Zoo in 2003, where she has lived ever since. She has contributed strongly to the breeding program for gentoos in zoos and has raised a total of 16 chicks. This year she became a great-great-great-grandmother herself and her lineage can be found all over the world, including in Canada, Ireland, Spain, the USA and the Netherlands. Her eldest chick is now 23 years old and might once inherit the crown from her.

The plumage of penguins consists of two layers, of which the upper layer is kept water-repellent with a secretion from an anal gland. This requires a lot of work to clean the feathers after swimming in the sea water and to keep the plumage tight again. Picture: Michael Wenger

With more than 41 years, “Olde” has doubled the natural life expectancy of gentoos. And despite good health, age is now noticeable, especially at the plumage. “Because her plumage is not as well kept as it should be, it is not watertight, and therefore she cannot get in the water,” explains keeper Sandie Munck. Instead we give her regular showers, and she’ll get one of those today – as well as all the fish she can eat.” Due to the slightly gray plumage, “Olde” is easier to find for the spectators find. She has become a small media star since she was named the oldest of her kind by the keepers on social media. “We stepped it up a bit last year, when she turned 40, and she’s since become one of the penguins that guests look for and ask about. She also receives a lot of love when we do social-media content about her,” the keeper continues. “She also receives a lot of love when we do social-media content about her.” A real diva after all.

Gentoos are native to the sub-Antarctic islands, but have now settled on parts of the Antarctic continent due to global warming. Their breeding area in the northn goes to the Falkland Islands, although animals have been found already on more northern islands such as Tristan da Cunha and Ascension. There are conflicting figures on their numbers, but are given as around one million adults. In addition to krill, they also feed on other large zooplankton and small fish. This makes the animals relatively insensitive to the decline of krill in the area of the Antarctic Peninsula, unlike their relatives. Like all brushtail species, they like to build stone nests and therefore have similar preferences as Adélie penguins or chinstrap penguins. In the areas where these two species have disappeared or migrated, gentoo penguins move in.

Gentoo penguins are the third-largest penguin species and belong to the brushtails, along with Adélie penguins and chinstrap penguins. They usually lay two eggs and experienced parents often get both chicks through.. This, together with their food flexibility, makes them a little less sensitive to the changes in Antarctica. Nor are they considered to be at risk. Picture: Michael Wenger

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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