Yellow-eyed penguin

Photo credit: Steve under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license. (Generic photo; not necessarily a same-sex pair.)

A New Zealand animal rescue organization is using male penguin pairs in an attempt to save the endangered yellow-eyed penguin.

Same-sex penguin parents are hardly news—they’ve been widely known ever since the publication of And Tango Makes Three, the charming book by real-life gay dads Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson (illustrated by Henry Cole) about a pair of male chinstrap penguins who hatched an egg and raised a chick in New York’s Central Park Zoo—and there are many other examples of same-sex penguin parents and couples.

But Penguin Rescue took a more active approach to encouraging same-sex penguin parents at its Moeraki colonies this year, reports the Otago Daily Times. Manager Rosalie Goldsworthy said “All the time that we have been involved in penguins, males will pair up”—so they gave the pairs artificial eggs “to see if the relationship is enduring — and if it was, we have transferred eggs from unsustainable nests.”

Now three of the 56 chicks in the colonies this past year were raised by same-sex pairs.

This wasn’t done on a whim, but was rather a tool “to maximise survival and breeding of the endangered birds.” Males outnumber females in the colonies, and not all breeding females are experienced. And even though two-year-old females can lay two fertile eggs, raising two chicks is too difficult for the young mothers. Having the male couples step in (or waddle in) to take care of one has meant more chicks can survive to adulthood.

Kudos to Goldsworthy and her team for pursuing this solution. It may not be the only action that helps save these birds—but every little bit helps.