By Roger G. Sweeney
First Published in The Avicultural Magazine Vol. 104 No. 4
Copyright © 1998 Avicultural Society, Published with Permission

Regional collection planning by European zoos places the emphasis on collections planning for the long-term future of the species they keep by ensuring that the captive populations have the potential to be self-sustaining over several generations. Any species which is considered to be of particular importance, becomes the subject of a management plan which begins with the preparation of a regional studbook to plot the demographic and genetic status of the captive population. Should this be in need of additional stock, zoological collections are encouraged to obtain fresh stock from the wild, rather than from dealers or collections outside the region, that have stock whose history may he unknown.

Loro Parque is currently constructing a new penguin exhibit which will he the most technically advanced in Europe, and will allow Antarctic species to he maintained at an air temperature below freezing point. The King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus will be the first species to be established in this new facility. The current European population does not produce sufficient offspring to be considered viable and the recruitment of additional founder stock was required to improve the future prospects of the European population. Against this background, plans were made for a joint collecting expedition to bring back a large number of King Penguin eggs for hatching and rearing in captivity.

Funded jointly by Loro Parque, Tenerife and Moody Gardens, Texas, the expedition planned to collect just over 200 eggs: 100 for Moody Gardens and 117 for Loro Parque. I represented Loro Parque on the expedition and Moody Gardens was represented by Patrick Sharkey, Curator of the gardens and Douglas Kempler, Director of the new aquarium being built there. The expedition was organised by the North American consultant group, WCI. The team consisted of Scott Drieschmann. Mrs Corey Drieschmann, Frank Todd, Frank Towhey. Ricardo Matus and Mrs Bctsey Pincheira Lazo. It met in Ushuaia, the most southerly town in Argentina, from where the team sailed to South Georgia to collect the eggs from two locations. The permit allowing the eggs to he collected was granted on the strict condition that the eggs were to be collected only during the last two weeks of March. The reason being that these eggs would not hatch before the beginning of the winter and the offspring would certainly die, for they would be too young to survive the Antarctic winter. It also clearly states on the permit that the offspring reared from the eggs cannot be sold commercially or transferred to other collections without the prior agreement of the Falkiand Islands Government. We have also undertaken to provide the authorities there with details of our methods, results, and all scientific data resulting from the rearing of the birds and their keeping and breeding thereafter.

Early on the afternoon of March 16th, I boarded an internal flight from Buenos Aires to Ushuaia, not only the most southerly town in Argentina, but also the most southerly town in the world. As we descended there were breathtaking views of the Patagonian landscape, with a rolling series of mountain peaks topped with snow and beech forest on the sides of the lower slopes, scenery unlike any I had seen previously. Upon landing the team met up and we took a bus transfer to the hotel where we spent the night before sailing the next day. Ushuaia is a small town (population 40,000) situated on the edge of the Beagle Channel. The short drive from the airport to the hotel passes along the coast and there we saw Magellanic Flightless Steamer Ducks Tackyeres pteneres and Kelp GooseKelp Geese Chloephaga hybrida.

On the morning of March 17th, we had some spare time before we sailed, and used it to do some last minute shopping and see some of the local scenery. The highlight for me was a trip inland to the foot of the nearest mountains to see where the glaciers reach down to the beech forest. When we were halfway up the mountainside in a cable car, we were surprised and delighted by the sight of an Andean Condor Vultur gryphus soaring high above us, which was almost certainly the most unexpected bird sighted on the trip. Later we gathered on board our ship, a former Russian research vessel used nowadays for ecotourism trips to the Antarctic region. The ship; the Professor Multanovskiy, had finished its tour commitments for the season and we were able to negotiate the extra journey before it returned to its home port of St Petersburg for the duration of the Antarctic winter. The late afternoon journey through the Beagle Channel out onto the open sea provided some interesting birds, including Magellanic Penguins Spheniscus magellanicus, the first of many penguins we saw on the trip. Other species seen were the Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus, Black-browed Albatross Diomedea melanophris, Sooty Shearwater Puffinus griseus, King Cormorant Phalacrocorax albiventer, Kelp Gull Larus dominicanus and South American Tern Sterna hirundinacea. The only marine mammal sighted during the day was a Southern Sea Lion 0taria flavescens.

The next morning we were out on the open sea. Black-browed Albatross, Giant Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and King Cormorant, species we had seen the day before, were still visible. New species were Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulansD. exulans, White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoetalis, Wilson's Storm Petrel Oceanites oceanius, Common Diving Petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix berard and Antarctic Skua Catharacta antarctica. The most surprising sight was that of a Dark-faced Ground Tyrant Muscisaxicola frontalis, which had obviously joined us on the ship before we sailed and had remained hidden until it was seen on deck the following morning. The next day, March 19th, we were further out at sea and there was a reduction in the overall number of birds. We were pleased to see four species of albatross. In addition to the Black-browed and the Wandering Albatross which we had seen before, we were also followed for sometime by Royal Royal AlbatrossDiomedea epomophora D. epomophora and Light-mantled Sooty Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata, which circled the ship as we progressed through the fairly calm sea. Other birds seen during the day included Giant Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty Shearwater and Wilson's Storm Petrel, all of which we had seen previously, plus three new species White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii, Soft-plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis P. mollis and Greater Shearwater Pterodroma gravisP. gravis.

On March 20th we crossed the Antarctic seas convergence zone and there followed a rapid 5° drop in the sea temperature in less than an hour, on which was our third complete day at sea. With one further day ahead, the passage into cooler water seemed to be marked by an increase in sightings of both marine mammals and birds. Mammals seen during March 20th included Fin Whale Balaenoptera physalus, Hour-glass Dolphin Lagenorhvnchus cruciger, Antarctic Fur Seal Arctocephalus gazella and Southern Elephant Seal Mirounga leonina. Birds seen included the same four species of albatross seen the day before, as well as Giant Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Soft-plumaged Petrel. White-headed Petrel, Sooty Shearwater, Greater Shearwater, Wilson's Storm Petrel, King Shag and Common Diving Petrel. Two new species recorded on this day were Black-bellied Storm Petrel Fregetta tropica and White-crested Elaenia Elaenia albiceps.

We reached the coast of South Georgia just after midday on March 21st, and followed the coast around to the town of Grytviken. It was there we were to meet the marine officer who would approve our documentation for the collecting expedition and accompany us to ensure good practise was followed throughout. The most exciting feature of the day's birdwatching was the presence of large numbers of penguins, with flocks heading out to sea in search of food, or returning to the shore after having fed. Three species were repeatedly seen in the sea throughout the day, the King Penguin, Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua and Macaroni Penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus. Our first sight of King Penguins in the wild was most welcoming, as they were the main reason for us being there. We reached Grytviken in the early evening and were joined there by Pat Lurcock, the marine officer for South Georgia. As well as the birds we had seen during the previous few days, now we had reached the coast we also saw several new species, including Blue Petrel Halobaena caerulea, Blue-eyed Shag Phalacrocorax atricepsP. atriceps, Georgian Diving Petrel Pterodroma georgicusP. georgicus and Snowy Sheathbill Chionis alba. A number of prions Pachyptila spp. were also seen but species identification could not be confirmed. In the morning a pod of Hour-glass Dolphins had again joined us and we had a brief sighting of a Minke Whale B. acutorostrata about 600m (approx. 650yd) off the starboard side of the ship.

We sailed from Grytviken in the early hours of March 22nd and by 9.00am had reached our first destination. St Andrew's Bay, where we planned to begin egg collecting. From the ship we could see the coastline covered by thousands of white spots, each one a King Penguin. Even from out in the bay the smell of their excrement with its very high uric acid content was highly distinctive. Colonies of King Penguins can number up to 35,000 birds and can he smelt from a considerable distance away. We transferred from the ship to the beach using Zodiac inflatable boats, taking with us two portable incubators, each with the capacity to hold just over 100 eggs. As we neared the shore the sound of the surf began to be drowned out by the noise made by the mass of wildlife on the beach. The King Penguins were by far the most numerous species, with thousands of birds making up the colony. The unique breeding cycle of the King Penguin, the slowest of any bird, taking as it does up to 16 months to complete, meant that within the one colony were birds at all stages of development.

There were adults in the process of breeding, including birds still incubating eggs or brooding newly hatched chicks; other chicks at various stages of development; fully developed juveniles still in thick natal down; sub-adults; and adults that had already bred and were moulting now. In among the thousands of King Penguins were a small number of Gentoo Penguins and our first sight of the Chinstrap Penguin Pygoscelis antarcticaP. antarctica came when we saw five on the rocks close to the shore. Two other bird species were prominent on the beach, the Snowy Sheathbills which ran between the King Penguins always on the look-out for an opportunist meal and the skuas which flew low over the colony also looking for an opportunist meal in the form of an unattended egg or chick they could seize.

Of the three species of mammals by the beach, the most numerous by far were the Fur Seals which occupied most of the moss grassland which ran inland from the gravel beach. As it was late autumn most of the adult males had left the breeding grounds leaving behind mainly adult females and the year's young, which were nearly independent. Small groups of female Elephant Seals were present on the beach. The most unexpected mammals we saw on South Georgia were the herds of Reindeer Rangifer tarandus introduced as a source of food when the whaling and Fur Seal industries were at their height.

Working in small teams around the edge of the colony, we slowly begun collecting the eggs. The incubating bird was seized gently from behind and the egg was removed from beneath the fold of skin which helps keep the egg balanced on top of the bird's feet. The eggs were then taken to portable incubators. This was a slow and careful process. Each time a member of the team entered or left the colony to take an egg to the incubator as they walked past the incubating and brooding penguins, great care was taken not to disturb them any more than was absolutely necessary. We wanted to ensure that they did not leave their eggs or young at the mercy of the skuas which sailed low over the colony. Although we knew that very few if any of these late eggs and chicks would survive the Antarctic winter, we nevertheless wanted to minimise our interference with the natural process. After collecting eggs for almost three hours we had reached our initial target and returned to the ship to begin assessing the eggs we had collected. King Penguin eggs are large and hcavy, they measure up to 117mm x 82mm and weigh up to 350g. Although I have for many years worked on procedures for artificially incubating the eggs of many species of captive birds, the King Penguin eggs were particularly difficult to assess due to their thick shells. This was made even more difficult by the fact that they had to be transferred immediately to the incubator to prevent them becoming chilled in the harsh climatic conditions under which they were being collected. Once back on board the ship where we were able to maintain a warmer air temperature, we began examining the eggs using a light. This gave us a good idea as to what stage of development the embryos had reached. We wanted to collect eggs which were at least 28 days old, so that they would have the best chance of surviving the journey back to Moody Gardens or Loro Parque. At the end of our first day at St Andrew's Bay only 49 eggs were considered to have sufficiently well developed embryos to fulfil the above criteria. The marine officer told us that the local weather conditions had been severe up until three weeks before, which was probably why so many eggs had been laid during the past three weeks, when the weather had become more favourable. The climatic conditions on South Georgia can vary greatly from one part of the island to another and so we decided that the best course of action was to move to a different location for the second day. The eggs which when we assessed them we found were under 28 days old and did not have sufficiently well developed embryos would he taken ashore there and, hopefully, exchanged for eggs which were at least 28 days old and had more advanced embryos. During the night we sailed to our new location.

On the morning of March 23rd we were anchored off Royal Bay, which was to be our second collecting point. Here we hoped to find many more birds which had begun laying a few weeks earlier than most of those at St Andrew's Bay. Once again we took with us two incubators, these contained the under 28 day old eggs collected earlier which we hoped to replace with eggs at least 28 days old. Once again the shoreline was dominated by King Penguins, with an estimated 30,000 birds on the beach. Also present were a few Gentoo Penguins and Chin-strap Penguins, as well as, skuas and Snowy Sheathbills, which always seem to be found where there are large colonies of King Penguins. Also on the beach there were a few juvenile Fur Seals and just a single large female Elephant Seal. By now it had become apparent that in order to collect eggs that had been incubated for at least 28 days, we had to collect them from close to the centre of the colony. The first birds to arrive and therefore the first to lay, are found in the centre of the colony, while later arrivals are found around the edge of the colony. Then as the eggs of the earlier birds hatch and the chicks grow bigger and require more food, these birds and their chicks move out towards the edge of the colony which allows later arrivals to move towards the centre during the later stages of incubation, where their chicks when they hatch will be safest.

The second day of egg collecting went well. Each time a new egg was collected, we took the opportunity to place beneath the bird one of the eggs from St Andrew's Bay which were considered not sufficiently advanced to withstand the long journey back. In nearly all cases this seemed to work well. By the end of the second day we had 217 eggs which we consideted suitable for our purposes (100 for Moody Gardens and 117 for Loro Parque). The eggs were contained in two incubators over which we maintained a twenty-four hour watch. Having achieved the primary objective of the expedition we set sail for Grytviken to return the marine officer, Pat Lurcock, to his post.

On the morning of March 24th we were ahead of schedule and had time to make two stops as we sailed up the coast. The first was at an old whaling station at Stromness, which proved an interesting experience. The buildings now in a state of disrepair, with some of them falling down, have in many cases been taken over as shelters by Elephant Seals and Fur Seals. Much of the equipment used by the whalers is still there, although now old and rusting. and the beach area is littered with old bones and rusting pieces of boats, which form a silent monument to the events which took place there decades ago. The stony beach which extends back into grassland was occupied by several small groups of Gentoo Penguins many of them making their way along pathways from their inland colony to the sea.

In the afternoon we stopped at Prion Island, and after landing and climbing up through tussock grass, had some of the most memorable sights on the trip. On top of the island we were treated to the sight of a number of nesting pairs of Wandering Albatross, two of which had chicks in the nest. A number of newly fledged Wandering Albatross were also wandering about on the island, and we saw several Giant Petrel chicks. From a cliff ledge I was able to watch and photograph a pair of nesting Light-mantled Albatross. I was also able to watch and photograph perhaps the rarest species was saw on the trip, a small flock of 11 SouthGeorgiaTeald0e310South Georgia Teal SouthGeorgiaTeald0e310South Georgia TealSouth Georgia Pintail or Pintail Anas georgica georgica on a pool hidden in tussock grass. The species with which I spent most time on the island was a colony of Gentoo Penguins. I had previously seen small groups in other locations, but this was the first opportunity to watch them from within the colony. The first thing that surprised mc was how far up the island they had established their colony, several hundred metres (yards) away and steeply uphill of the beach area. I spent almost an hour in the middle of the colony, which even though it had clearly completed its breeding cycle, remained energetically engaged in nest building activity. As is typical in such densely populated colonies, most of the nesting material was stolen from adjacent nests. As a result of this there was a lot of activity in the colony as the birds continually squabbled over the ownership of the nesting material and searched for new material, while trying not to venture too far from their own unprotected nests.

On the morning of March 24th we were back on the open sea. The return journey was slightly shorter, as we were heading for Port Stanley, the principle port and capital of the Falkland Islands. Perhaps the most impressive sights during the voyage were the pods of up to 40 Hour-glass Dolphins which swum off the bow of the ship on two occasions during the mornings of March 25th and 26th. No further new species were recorded until we reached the Falkland Islands late on the afternoon of March 27th. The approach into Port Stanley brought with it sightings of Fin Whales and Minke Whales, species we had previously seen close to South Georgia. We also had our first sighting of Peele's Dolphins Lagenorhynchus australis which accompanied the ship for just under an hour. New bird species seen were Falkland Island Flightless Steamer Duck Tackyeres brachypterusT. brachypterus , Falkland Island Kelp Goose Chloephaga hybrida malvinarum C. h. malvinarum and Greater Magellan Goose Chloephaga picta leucoptera C. picta leucoptera . We also saw Magellanic Penguin, which breed on the Falkland Islands, our first sighting of this species since the day we sailed from Ushuaia. We slept overnight on hoard the ship and then went ashore and travelled by road to Mount Pleasant Airport. From there we flew to Punta Arenas in southern Chile, then took an internal flight to Santiago de Chile. The team from Moody Gardens, together with Frank Towhey, flew to Florida and then on to Texas and I travelled with Scott Driesehman and Frank Todd to Madrid, then on to Tenerife. The flight from Santiago de Chile to Madrid was the longest leg of the journey. The incubator was powered by battery, but with 117 large, well developed eggs in the insulated container, the heater was barely necessary, as for long periods of time, the eggs themselves generated sufficient heat.

Throughout the flight the temperature in the incubator was monitored continually by Scott Drieshman and myself. Of particular concern were the take-offs and landings, when changes in the air pressure in the cabin had a direct effect on the air temperature in the incubator. On our eventual arrival at Tenerife's north airport, we were driven quickly to Loro Parque where the quarantine nursery was prepared and waiting. Loro Parque's Assistant Curator, Mike Downman, was waiting and the eggs were transferred to two specially built incubators. As we landed, the first egg was already in the process of hatching and the chick emerged shortly after we reached the nursery. Named 'Santiago', it was the first of over 70 chicks hatched and reared from the eggs we collected and brought back to Loro Parque. This group of King Penguins will be the first inhabitants of the new penguin exhibit. It will include an indoor refrigerated area of more than 2,000sq m (approx. 2,400sq yd), with a floor covering of snow and ice. The penguins will be able to be viewed both above and below the water

Roger G. Sweeney now works as an avicultural consultant, mainly in the Middle East and south-east Asia.

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