Watch: Auckland's loved-up gay penguin couple raise baby chick

Despite an earlier heartbreak, a committed same-sex pair of king penguins in Auckland is spending a loving Valentine's Day as a full family.

Thelma and Louise have been mates for more than eight years, even staying together when it's not time to breed.

It's an unusual feat for the species, which often break up and find new partners every breeding season.

"They've got quite a strong bond," penguin keeper and team leader Laura Seaman told Newshub.

The same-sex couple live at Auckland's Kelly Tarlton's and were incubating an egg just before Christmas.

A baby king penguin chick sitting beneath its mother's brood pouch.
The as-yet unnamed baby penguin. Photo credit: John Maye / Supplied

Unfortunately for them, the egg turned out to be infertile - but they've still been able to expand their family.

"Thelma and Louise took a chick in, after it was realised the chick's biological parents weren’t up to the task," penguin keeper Kristin Buckley told Newshub.

"In order to give the chick the greatest chance to thrive... the egg was given to Thelma and Louise one week before it was due to hatch.

"Thelma and Louise have such a great track record in fostering chicks, having successfully raised three chicks."

For king penguins, it doesn't matter if the two parents are male, female, or one of each, Ms Seaman said. All that matters is there are two of them to swap off baby-raising duties while the other gets some food.

In this case, the mother of the egg abandoned it after it was laid, leaving the father to incubate it alone.

The penguin keepers at Kelly Tarlton's gave the egg to Thelma and Louise to foster and raise when they realised the solo dad was struggling.

While this baby chick isn't genetically related to the two, they hatched it together and have raised it from the very beginning of its life.

Same-sex king penguin couple Thelma and Louise cuddle up while watching their chick.
Thelma and Louise have doted on their baby chick. Photo credit: John Maye / Supplied

They'll keep looking after it and teaching it the ways of the penguins, along with the other penguins and Kelly Tarlton's staff, until it's old enough to strike out on its own.

As it gets bigger it will grow fluffy, dark brown down, which it will keep until after it has grown to its adult size - then the species' iconic and striking plumage will grow in.

"Once old enough, the chick will be integrated into our existing penguin colony, enjoying lots of playtime, swims and fish with our other penguins," Ms Buckley said.

"We are just super stoked that Thelma and Louise have a beautiful chick to raise and we know, given their track record, they will do an excellent job."

For this happy penguin family, it's made for a lovely way to spend Valentine's Day.


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