Auckland's gay penguin couple prepare for special Christmas bundle of joy

An unusual pair of penguins at Auckland's Kelly Tarlton's aquarium are preparing for a very special Christmas bundle of joy this year.

The tale of Thelma and Louise is a love story for the ages - with the King penguin couple, at least.

It was eight years ago when the two female penguins met and bonded.

Unlike most of their species, they've been together ever since, even when other couples usually call it quits and find a new exclusive partner each breeding season.

"Thelma is full of character, Louise is a bit more shy but she's lovely to Thelma," assistant penguin keeper Nicky Walker told Newshub.

Nicky Walker with penguins at Auckland's Kelly Tarlton's.
Nicky Walker on the ice with the penguins at Kelly Tarlton's. Photo credit: Newshub.

King penguins usually incubate an egg on their feet as they wait for it to hatch. It doesn't matter if the couple are both male, both female, or if there's one of each; all that matters is that they have a partner they can trade off with.

In a true Christmas miracle, the keepers came in one day and saw Thelma had laid an egg.

"They really enjoy having an egg - like any animal, they want to breed," penguin keeper and team leader Laura Seaman told Newshub.

"Having the egg together is really good for their partnership as well."

But there's a twist worthy of a dramatic soap opera.

Unlike some other bird species, king penguins lay fertilised eggs after a male and a female mate - rather than the egg being fertilised after it laid.

Thelma laid this egg earlier this month, so there could be trouble on the ice.

"[During mating season there is] a lot of courting behaviour, singing to each other, chattering their beaks," said Ms Walker.

"That's when they start relocating themselves onto their rockery and forming their pairs."

And it appears that Louise is none-the-wiser to the scandal that may send feathers flying. She's still helping incubate the egg as it if was her own.

King penguins at Auckland's Kelly Tarlton's.
The King penguins' mating season began in late October. Photo credit: Newshub.

While their Auckland home may be quite different to their sub-Antarctic origins, Kelly Tarlton's works to keep it as natural as possible for the birds.

Their enclosure is shared with cheeky gentoo penguins - who often live side-by-side with King penguin colonies in the wild, Ms Seaman said.

"We have computer-controlled lighting which replicates the daylight cycles in the sub-Antarctic. That's really important they know what time of year it is."

Now the loved-up couple and keepers have to wait until early next year to find out if the egg is fertile and will hatch - and just who the baby daddy is.

Newshub.

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