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  • Phoebe Robertson

Love at the Zoo

Lovingly Written by: Phoebe Robertson

There are those who believe that the penguins at Wellington Zoo are nothing more than a conspiracy theory. How else can you explain visiting the zoo multiple times and never catching a glimpse of them? Or only seeing their tiny feet and bellies peeking out from their cozy nesting boxes? Some question if they're real or just well-made statues. The keepers in charge of the penguin exhibit seem to think these birds exist, but VUWSA's Emily Bull thinks otherwise. However, I am strongly against this notion. In fact, I was so passionate about it that I contacted the zoo specifically to learn more about my beloved (and entirely real) penguin couple: Harriet and Nettle. And through my research, I discovered how they (along with some other adorable animals) fell in love.

Harriet and Nettle

Harriet and Nettle have been in a relationship for approximately one year. As Kororā are not a monogamous

species, the duration of their relationship isn't seen as short or long, it's simply the time they've spent together. Prior to being with Harriet, Nettle had a relationship with male penguin Bandit but eventually left him for Harriet (we love a bisexual queen). Another fun fact: Despite having only one flipper, she is one of the fastest penguins at the Zoo.Their home at the zoo is usually cozy in their nest box, but they also like to go on dates by swimming together. During courtship, Kororā exhibit head-shaking and bowing as a way to get to know each other. They also practice braying, where they shake their flippers at their sides, make a unique noise (a mix of squeals and growls), and lean towards each other. According to the keepers at the zoo, this behavior is "very adorable".

Harriet takes on the masc role in the relationship; she excels at catching fish in the pool and gathering nesting materials. It's not uncommon to see her dragging entire cabbage tree leaves across the pool, showing her dedication to her partner (Nettle, on the other hand, is femme and agile). Nesting is an important aspect of Penguin courtship, as finding a suitable location near the ocean that is also protected from harsh weather can be challenging; once found, it must be fiercely defended. Typically, male penguins will find a suitable spot for a nest and defend it in hopes of attracting a female penguin who will appreciate his choice and choose to stay with him. 

Conservation efforts for Kororā penguins are championed by Wellington Zoo through initiatives like Safe Cats Safe Wildlife, which educates the community on the importance of keeping cats indoors to protect vulnerable bird species like Kororā. Another common threat to their safety is dog attacks. While they are fast and skilled swimmers, they are vulnerable on land against mammalian predators—it's important to keep dogs on a leash and avoid taking them to areas where penguins nest or molt. Also dangerous for penguins is fishing line and equipment, which can easily entangle and harm them or other seabirds. If you go fishing, make sure to clean up all your gear afterwards. Additionally, be mindful of any litter that could potentially harm a penguin, and take it with you when you leave the beach. If you happen to come across an injured or distressed penguin, contact 0800 DOC HOT to alert the Department of Conservation so they can provide guidance on what to do next. To further support penguin conservation efforts, consider reaching out to organizations like Places for Penguins to volunteer or donate towards their cause.

Robyn and Vilson 

For 15 years, Robyn and Vilson, the white-cheeked gibbons residing at Wellington Zoo, have been an inseparable pair, a testament to their species' monogamous nature. Their courtship involves selecting mates based on physical appearance, social behavior, and vocalization—seen in the harmonious duets they sing each morning to mark their territory and reinforce their bond. In addition to their musical displays, they also engage in affectionate behaviors such as mutual grooming, further solidifying their closeness. They’re both characters—Robyn has a sassy and elusive personality, often taking on a regal persona like a Queen Bee; Vilson's vanity shines through in his fondness for admiring himself in the mirror. Despite these differences, they both have a laid-back demeanor. 

Wellington Zoo supports conservation efforts for White-Cheeked Gibbons by collaborating with organizations like Flora and Fauna International to protect wild populations. The community is also encouraged to contribute to gibbon habitat conservation by choosing FSC-certified wood and paper products that promote sustainable forestry practices.

Zuri and Sunny

Zuri and Sunny, two giraffes who live at Wellington Zoo, have been together for roughly a year, which is common for giraffe relationships. Unlike monogamous species like White-Cheeked Gibbons, giraffes do not typically form exclusive bonds. Instead, male giraffes will display behavior such as tapping a female's hind leg or engaging in 'necking' battles (‘punching’ one another with their necks and heads) to signal their readiness to mate. Despite this lack of monogamy, Zuri has recently taken on the responsibility of caring for their newborn daughter Nia, with occasional moments of affection from Sunny in the form of kisses. However, it is typical for adult bulls to remain distant from parental duties. Both Zuri and Sunny possess traits commonly found in giraffes, creatures often described as stubborn, and cautious. Sunny displays typical behavior for adult bulls by frequently pestering females within the herd. 

To support conservation efforts for giraffes, individuals can purchase FSC-certified wood and paper products that are sustainably sourced, protecting giraffe habitats by reducing pressure on their habitats that remain.


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