When is a gay penguin not a gay penguin? It's a suddenly relevant question, now that the Toronto Zoo's celebrity same-sex penguins seem to have taken up with members of the opposite sex.
Buddy and Pedro, two male penguins whose devoted affection for one another generated coverage around the world, were separated by keepers at the zoo out of concern for the propagation of the species. African penguins are endangered, and in order to encourage breeding, the birds' handlers have paired them up with females, apparently with some success: Buddy and his new female partner, Farai, have been observed engaging in breeding activity.
Pedro hasn't gone to quite the same distance with his arranged partner, Thandiwey, but he has been "constantly courting" her and other females, according to keepers.
This would seem to spell the end of a same-sex love story that has received international attention. News outlets around the world had reported on the close relationship between Buddy and Pedro, speculating that it represented evidence of a natural homosexual bond.
But Tom Mason, the Toronto Zoo's curator of birds and invertebrates, said that the attachment between the two penguins was not sexual but merely social. He also said that it was necessary to intervene in order to make sure that the penguins made the right genetic match with their choice of breeding partner.
But that hasn't stopped people from protesting against the forced separation of the two males, citing the intervention as a bid to undermine the very notion of gay penguins. One online petition started by a man in the U.K. says that the zoo wants to separate Buddy and Pedro "because they are two male penguins that have bonded, presumably trying to disprove the existence of homosexuality in the animal kingdom."
The separation has also prompted a Facebook page, "Keep Buddy and Pedro Together", where a number of commenters have expressed their disapproval of the zoo's breeding program.
Buddy has actually produced offspring before, and had a female partner for 10 years until she died. Pedro has never sired offspring.
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