Meet Australia’s oldest little penguin, who has had chicks all over the country

Written by Javed Iqbal

Just shy of 21 years old, Gordon is Australia’s oldest little penguin ever and still maintains an active love life despite his age.

The senior penguin has outlived its species’ average lifespan by more than 14 years and has also been busy protecting its species’ declining population.

Gordon’s bloodline runs strong and he has successfully raised four adult daughters who have gone on to breed in other colonies around Australia.

His Adelaide Zoo keeper, Amelia Kennett, said it was no small feat for an animal that normally mates for life.

“He’s had quite a few different partners, which is a bit unusual for little penguins,” Ms Kennett said.

“Especially because he has a number of partners, it means he’s not overrepresented genetically too much… so he’s done well in that part.”

Despite having arthritis and partial blindness, Gordon continues to amaze, hatching another chick the other day.

A little penguin in his enclosure.
Gordon is Australia’s oldest little penguin at nearly 21 years old, which is about 89 in human years.(ABC News: Ethan Rix)

His keepers hope the new hatchling will make it.

“He just lights up,” Mrs. Kennett said.

“As he gets older and older, we realize how important that is, and I guess he’s pretty special in the group.”

Gordon is one of 14 little penguins at Adelaide Zoo.

With only half of the little penguins surviving past their first year and the continuous loss of habitat, small populations like this help ensure the existence of the species.

“By having a breeding population in captivity, it means we have a little bit of backup if things go south in the wild,” Ms Kennett said.

A woman with glasses and a khaki uniform at the zoo
Zookeeper Amelia Kennett says Gordon has had many children.(ABC News: Che Chorley)

Parenting is a fifty-fifty job between baby penguins, with mom and dad usually sharing feeding shifts between morning and evening.

But with more parenting experience than anyone, Gordon has learned to take action.

“For Gordon, if his mate lets the relationship down a bit, he’ll definitely step up and sometimes he’ll do both feeds in one day,” she said.

Since arriving from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo two decades ago, Gordon has become a beloved character at Adelaide Zoo.

“They all have their unique personalities and characteristics, but Gordon is definitely one that stands out,” laughed Gordon’s keeper.

“He’s very routine … which I guess comes with his age.”

Gordon’s nest is conveniently located at the highest point of the enclosure, overlooking the pond and his penguin mates.

“We moved his nest box once and he was very adamant that we never move it again,” Ms Kennett said.

A little penguin in a zoo.
Gordon is popular with visitors to Adelaide Zoo.(Supplied: Zoos SA)

With a zeal like his, the only sign of Gordon’s age comes from his name, which was inspired by a brand of gin.

“We had a number of birds named after alcohol which have since been changed,” said his keeper.

“We have a theme of names every year, and back then it was what it was.”

Gordon currently sees an eye doctor once a year and takes occasional pain medication, but overall Kennett said he is fit and healthy.

“He’s more than comfortable at the moment, but we’re keeping a close eye on him,” she said.

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Javed Iqbal

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