NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans is shipping out about half its popular penguins.
"This is a big success story," explains Darwin Long, Senior Aviculturist at the aquarium. "If we didn't do this, that would not be a sign of success."
The aquarium has experienced a population explosion in recent years with the number of chick hatching bringing the penguin population to 44.
Now, it is sharing that success with three other facilities around the country: Idaho Falls Zoo; Como Park Zoo and Conservatory in Minnesota and Maryland Zoo.
Twenty mature penguins - successful mom and dad penguins - are being relocated.
The Audubon Nature Institute takes part in a collaborative management and breeding program for endangered species with other zoos and aquariums in the U.S. and Canada in order to promote genetic diversity.
"The other reason, if we kept breeding them, you know, we've got four generations of penguins," Long said. "We've got great grand kids in here. We don't want any inbreeding."
In the wild today, there are an estimated 48,000 African black-footed penguins, which are native to southern Africa. Around 1900, Long said the penguins numbered roughly three million.
Poachers taking Cape anchovies are robbing the black-footed penguins of their primary food source, Long explained, and threatening the species with extinction.
"Make a long story short, when those disappear so do African penguins," Long said.
The Aquarium of the Americas will eventually receive some replacement penguins from other facilities to help diversify the gene pool.