The soap opera continues at the San Francisco Zoo’s penguin exhibit: Harry the gay-turned-straight penguin became gravely ill and his penguin lady friend remained loyally by his side.
Weeks after the saga of Harry and his former male companion, Pepper, made Time Magazine’s top 10 breakups of 2009, Harry is being treated for a life-threatening- respiratory infection, zoo officials said.
Harry, a Magellanic penguin, received international attention this summer after he left Pepper, for the female penguin Linda. Harry and Pepper had shared a burrow since 2003 and zookeepers considered the same-sex pair one of their most devoted and stable avian partnerships.
The relationship came unglued when the recently widowed Linda took an interest in Harry, who soon moved into her burrow. The drama peaked when, in an apparent move on Pepper’s nicer digs, Harry and Linda attacked Pepper. The three had to be separated and Pepper was sent to a bachelor pad at the zoo’s Avian Conservation Center for the rest of the breeding season.
Cooler feathers prevailed after Pepper returned to the island, and he has since spent his days swimming, spending time with friends and generally "being a penguin," said Harrison Edell, the zoo’s curator of birds.
Then, about two weeks ago, zookeepers noticed Harry coughing and watched his appetite diminishing.
He was diagnosed with aspergillosis, a serious respiratory infection that can be fatal for penguins, Edell said.
Veterinarians have moved Harry to a pool at the Avian Conservation Center for treatment, and have brought Linda along to keep him company during his convalescence.
"Linda’s just there for companionship," Edell said. "Penguins are such social animals and we don’t want Harry feeling more stressed from being alone in addition to the stress of being sick."
So far, Harry seems to be responding to treatment, but Edell said it’s still too soon to say whether he’ll bounce back.
"It is a serious veterinary concern," he said. "But his appetite this week is a lot better than it was last week, and he’s moving around better. It seems like he may be feeling a little better."
As for Pepper, Edell said he hasn’t found another mate yet, but that penguin love life tends to heat up during the spring breeding season.
"Nothing’s over until the fat lady sings," Edell said. "It’s not going to be over until March, April, May — that’s when we’ll see who’s partnering up."