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'All My Penguins' Chronicles Love, Betrayal At Lincoln Park Zoo

By Kelly Bauer | August 24, 2017 5:54am | Updated on September 15, 2017 10:49am
 The Lincoln Park Zoo's African penguins have
The Lincoln Park Zoo's African penguins have
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Lincoln Park Zoo

CHICAGO — Robben left Pilchard for Preston, and Dudley is cooling his tail feathers after Madiba dumped him for Mandela.

Such is life for the penguins of Lincoln Park Zoo, who are having their dating ups-and-downs chronicled in the zoo's soap opera blog, "All My Penguins."

Penguins, you see, are typically monogamous, or at the very least loyal for a season or so. No one told the new Lincoln Park Zoo penguins, though.

As it turns out, penguin romance might not be as simple as slipping a chick a pebble and calling her yours for life. (Was "The Pebble and the Penguin" all a lie?)

RELATED: What's It Like To Waddle With The Penguins At Lincoln Park Zoo?

The zoo's African penguin colony was unveiled in October. People were interested "in how they were doing and how they were acclimating to their new space," said Sunny Nelson, the zoo's Hope D. McCormick curator of birds.

Nelson sent out a "funny and quippy" update on the penguins, she said, and it was a hit with fans. People wanted to know more about "what's going on with the drama of the colony and who was spending time with who," Nelson said.

That interest spurred the creation of "All My Penguins," with the first post coming out in mid-July. The zoo's writers use the blog to take a tongue-in-cheek approach to offering real, informative updates on the colony.

Aje is a bachelor looking for love on "All My Penguins." [Lincoln Park Zoo/Todd Rosenberg]

The zoo even made a guide to the birds, noting female Madiba "gets what she wants — especially food — and waffles between mates: Dudley or Mandela," while male TJ is "large in size and always has the dominant penguin's back."

"It's been interesting to watch as pairs form and they spend time with each other," Nelson said. "That doesn't mean that there aren't ... 'extramarital affairs.'"

Updates have chronicled how 2-year-old Pilchard, dubbed "the Salty One," earned a reputation for stealing fish from his friends — and how he lost his mate, Robben. Robben's now with Preston, the colony's dominant penguin.

Other posts covered how Madiba ditched boyfriend Dudley for her other feathery friend, Mandela. (The two are now happily building a nest together, so get lost, Dudley.)

The storylines, dramatic as they may be, are based on the penguins' real lives. They come from observations made by the penguin's keepers.

By watching and working with the colony, the keepers have learned the personalities of the birds and been able to see who they're courting, building nests with and who they bray with (think penguin pillow talk — or nest talk, if you will).

One example of penguin personality: Madiba and Mandela have been building a nest — and they're not above stealing nest material from their friends. Some penguins are more curious about new things than others, and some prefer to steal fish from other members of the colony rather than be fed by the keepers, Nelson said.

"I think they are all very unique individuals," Nelson said. "Pilchard does the 'grab and go' [when stealing]. It's funny to watch."

Pilchard lost his main squeeze, Robben, to the colony's dominant male, Preston. Now he's been spotted going after Aiden while forming bromances with other bachelors. [DNAinfo/Mikna Bloom]

And though you can't necessarily ascribe emotions like love or jealousy to penguins, Nelson said she thinks she's seen at least one example of loyalty during "All My Penguins": The zoo brought together female Sunny and male Maynard, who'd both been "dating" other penguins, hoping they'd form a new pair.

Sunny and Maynard spent time getting cozy behind the scenes at the zoo, and the crew eventually decided the penguins were able to return to the outside exhibit.

Once there, the two tossed caution to the wind and eschewed the zoo's plans: Sunny "immediately reunited" with her beau, TJ, and Maynard went to his old girlfriend, Aiden, Nelson said.

"To me, that shows there is some loyalty there," Nelson said. "Obviously, Maynard and Sunny seem to enjoy each other when they were off exhibit and behind the scenes. But obviously when they had their choice ... they both immediately chose their previous partners."

The series will "culminate" in October, said zoo spokeswoman Emily Altimari, and the soap opera's season will end. The zoo is still determining if it'll bring back "All My Penguins" next year.

"I think we have a lot of science to support that they generally will spend multiple seasons with the same partner," Nelson said. But "partners may change up seasonally, or they may decide to swap out occasionally.

"We just have to watch and see what happens."

Trying to get caught up before the next "All My Penguins" post? Here's how things stand (for now):