BALTIMORE, MD Maryland Zoo’s Bird Curator, Jen Kottyan, has been appointed to lead the national breeding and population management initiative for African penguins (Spheniscus demersus).

As the Program Leader for the African Penguin Species Survival Plan© (SSP), Kottyan now oversees African penguin breeding programs at zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

Kottyan has been working with the SSP for some time and relocated to Maryland Zoo in June 2008 specifically to work with the Zoo’s colony of African penguins.

“Jen’s experience with penguins and deep familiarity with their breeding and population management made her an excellent choice to run this national program with a global impact,” said Margaret Rose-Innes, General Curator at the Maryland Zoo.

“Anyone who’s interacted with the African penguin colony at our Zoo knows how incredible these animals are,” Kottyan said. “Because of the decreasing populations in the wild, the work of the AZA’s African Penguin SSP Program is more critical now than ever.”

African Penguins at Maryland Zoo

Maryland Zoo is home to the largest colony of African penguins in North America and has successfully bred more than 1,000 chicks. The birds are one of the Zoo’s Signature Animal Programs and among its most popular visitor attractions.

To underscore the strong tie between the colony in Baltimore and conservation work halfway around the world, the Zoo’s award-winning Penguin Coast habitat is reminiscent of the fishing villages you might encounter along the western coast of South Africa and Namibia, where these penguins live in the wild.

Despite being a protected species, the number of wild African penguins has declined dramatically. There is a real chance the birds will become extinct within ten years.

Penguin colonies compete with commercial fishermen for access to their main food source. They are also vulnerable to ocean pollution, including spills from oil tankers and human disturbances on penguin nesting grounds.

For years the Zoo’s penguin team has been traveling to support a seabird rescue facility in South Africa. Maryland Zoo is also a founding member of a similar facility that is getting up and running in Namibia.