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Ocean Park Shares Latest Achievements in Breeding Efforts and World-class Animal Care Busiest Penguin Breeding Season with 21 Chicks Hatched Veterinary Team Successfully Introduced Cataract Removal Surgery for First Time

2014-02-10

Ocean Park today announced that the 2013/14 penguin breeding season was the busiest year ever, with 21 penguin chicks already hatched, including 19 Gentoo, 1 King and 1 Southern rockhopper penguins. Since the opening of Polar Adventure in July 2012, a total of 24 penguin chicks have been born, enabling Ocean Park to increase its penguin population by 32% to reach 98 birds. Besides providing these important animal ambassadors from the sub-antarctic a nurturing environment to breed, Ocean Park continues to raise standards of animal care and husbandry throughout the lifespan of all our animal ambassadors, by adopting treatment techniques rarely applied in other zoos and theme parks, such as dental restoration and cataract removal.

 Dr. Allan Zeman, Chairman of Ocean Park, said, “The entire Ocean Park family is delighted to welcome the birth of new animal ambassadors in Hong Kong. The birth of a female King penguin chick last year was particularly memorable as it was miraculously hatched from an egg with a broken shell. Thanks to the timely and attentive care of the animal keepers and veterinarians, she was successfully hatched within our in-house incubator and is now thriving under the care of her parents. Our penguin team named her ‘Miracle’ to mark her remarkable hatching.”

 Miracle’s story began on 17 July 2013, five days before she was due to hatch, when an animal keeper noticed her egg had dropped from the feet of her parent, with 30% of the shell broken. The potential of survival for the penguin chick was considered very low as the embryo was at risk of dehydration. The egg was immediately transferred to an incubator, where it was held inside a specially designed container to maintain an adequate level of humidity for the embryo to survive. After the team overcame a number of complications during the hatching process, the penguin chick finally hatched on 21 July and was delivered to her parents the following day.

 Mr. Philip Wong, Curator of Polar Adventure, said, “The 2013/14 penguin breeding season was our fourth and busiest year ever, indicating that the penguins have found the environment we provide for them suitable for producing their next generations. As penguins are usually monogamous, we expect many of the new parents will pair up again during future seasons.”

 Mr. Wong added, “To help our penguins build their nests for laying and hatching eggs, our animal keepers provide them with up to two tons of pebbles, from which they build their own nests. Interestingly, as each penguin has its own preferences for pebbles, they often ‘steal’ from other penguins even though there are more than enough pebbles to go around. In cases where a penguin cannot sit properly on their eggs for the hatching process due to inexperience, we had to move the eggs to an incubator and place fake eggs in the nests so the parents would not be stressed by missing their eggs. The chicks hatched under our care would then be delivered back to the parents for feeding once they had been confirmed healthy.”

 Dr. Paolo Martelli, Chief Veterinarian, said, “The vigilance of our animal keepers and trainers is critical to not only our breeding efforts, but also for the delivery of the highest standards of care throughout the lifespan of our animals. Having developed close bonds with the animals in their care, our keepers and trainers can notice the tiniest changes in an animal’s behaviour, making it possible for us to conduct the necessary tests and provide treatments in a timely manner. For instance, our panda keepers help detect the onset of any dental problems by looking out for changes in the animals’ eating habits. This is especially important with aging pandas like Jia Jia and An An. We also rely on the trust developed between the keepers and the animals, which enables them to actively participate in health checks and treatments. For instance, the dolphin Dumisa, on breeding loan from South Africa, participated in dental surgery to protect a number of her teeth from wear. Not only was the procedure achieved without any need for restraints, she kept her mouth open for an extended period of time while vets worked on her teeth, showing the high level of trust and confidence she has in her carers.”

 Dr. Martelli added, “We put a strong focus on ensuring that our animals can enjoy the highest quality of life possible. In fact, we are one of the few zoological facilities worldwide that would choose to perform restorative dental procedures over extraction where feasible, despite the cost and time involved. Dental restoration allows the dolphin to keep a fuller set of healthy teeth and gums. Last year, we also began exploring cataract surgeries for our animals, starting with five birds of four different species, including a Toco Toucan, a greater Eagle Owl, two Scarlet Macaws and a Green-winged Macaw. Regaining clear vision brought about a huge improvement to their lives – an opportunity not available to animals suffering from cataracts in the wild. The experience has taught us many things, including the benefit of increasing their weight before surgery to allow a smoother recuperation recovery. Given the successes achieved, we plan to extend the treatment to marine mammals in the future. Last year, we also performed a surgery to remove a mammary tumour from an aging sea lion. She now enjoys an improved quality of life, without the tumour mass pressing on her belly.”

 Ocean Park is home to Jia Jia, the world’s oldest giant panda under human care. Given her advanced age of 36 years, she has cataracts in both eyes and high blood pressure. As part of her daily care routine, she allows keepers to apply eye drops and participates in the measurement of her blood pressure. While she still has healthy teeth for her age, she has started favouring softer bamboo shoots over bamboo leaves and the harder stems. To help her maintain adequate fibre intake, her keepers prepare hand-made biscuits with bamboo leaves and fibre to supplement her diet. Jia Jia is also offered steamed yam and pumpkin, which are also easy for her to digest. Keepers have also developed a variety of enrichment programmes to help Jia Jia maintain her physical activity. Her favourite “toy” is a burlap sack, which she likes to hug and roll around with in the back-of-house area.

Dr. Zeman concluded, “Ocean Park continues to ensure that our guests would learn about nature conservation while having fun. In this regard, our animal ambassadors play an essential role in connecting our guests with nature. We are very proud of our animal care professionals, and will continue to improve and expand our capabilities in animal care and husbandry, thereby enabling our animals to live healthy lives and produce new generations.”