Photo of the week: Mood lighting

Summary

King penguins at Antwerp Zoo are getting help to be able to determine who is ready to mate and who isn’t

A little romance

Penguins look black and white to us, but that’s not at all how they look to each other. Antwerp Zoo is helping its king penguins to, erm, get in the mood with special lighting that simulates the natural UV rays present in the penguins’ homeland. The photo is how the penguins now see each other in their enclosure – closer to how they would see each other in the wild.

Penguins know when their comrades are ready to mate by the colours reflected on their beaks. This is more difficult to see in Europe than in the South Atlantic, where king penguins originate.

By installing special led lamps, the zoo is helping the penguins to see bright pink and purplish colours on each other’s bills. This suggests that the penguin is sexually mature and ready to mate. The idea is to help the species to breed, which can be difficult for them in captivity. The experiment is unique in Europe.

“Visitors can’t see the colours,” explains animal care co-ordinator Jan Dams. “But we aim to provide excellent accommodation for our animals and put their wellness first. So we create habitats that are as natural and realistic as possible, including the light cycles around the Falkland Islands, from where these penguins come. Throughout the year, we also simulate the length of the days, which is very different from here and has a significant effect on breeding.”

The king penguin is considered a threatened species, having fallen victim to the effects of climate change and commercial fishing, which reduces their food supply. “We hope that this experiment leads to better success in our breeding programme of this threatened species,” said Dams.

Photo courtesy Antwerp Zoo