x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Penguin chicks waddle into Dubai history

Aquarium parades new arrivals after two-year wait.

Dennis, a trainer at Dubai Aquarium, holds the newborn Humboldt Chicks.
Dennis, a trainer at Dubai Aquarium, holds the newborn Humboldt Chicks.

DUBAI // Applause broke out yesterday for the first set of newborn penguins at a Dubai aquarium as two nine-week-old chicks waddled gingerly out of a small white cave into public view.

The Humboldt penguin chicks at the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo, repeatedly moved in and out of their nest, their plain, grey coats the only indication of their tender age. At 50 centimetres, they are already almost as tall as their mother.

"We are very happy, very excited about these babies," said Arbib Mohammed, an aquarium educator addressing around 30 onlookers. "We have been waiting for two years for chicks and we hope we will have a lot more babies."

The chicks were born to three-year-olds Rami and Circo. Officials said they waited to ensure the youngsters were healthy before announcing the new arrivals, which takes the colony to 17 penguins.

"This is the first time the penguins have laid eggs," said Juan Romero, the aquarium's head curator.

"The male penguin looks for small rocks to make the nest comfortable. We put rocks and branches in a corner for him to find."

Circo, the mother, laid eggs three months ago and the chicks were born after a 45-day incubation.

In their first few days the father, Rami, parted with his share of fish to the newborns, regurgitating his vitamin-rich mackerel and sardines into the babies' mouths.

"No one, not even the trainers, goes near the nest," said Mr Romero, who was the head of aquariums in Istanbul and Britain before coming to Dubai. "The parents are very jealous of their territory, so we leave them alone."

After four weeks a trainer was allowed to get closer, picking the chicks up and measuring them every other day. They now weigh in at a healthy 450 to 500 grams, and have their health checked every five days.

By next month they will learn to swim when their parents push them into the water. The chicks are now fed by the trainer and are already attracting interest.

"Look how the black ones walk," shouted Yatish Shah, 6, copying the penguin waddle. "I like penguins the best, I like their walk."

The newborns may soon have company. Trainers believe another penguin may be about to lay eggs.

"We are not sure yet, but she is very big and is always inside the nest," Mr Romero said.

"We are keeping an eye out."

rtalwar@thenational.ae