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Gay penguins at London zoo hold mirror to homophobic society

Gay penguins at London zoo hold mirror to homophobic society

By Hugo Greenhalgh LONDON, Feb 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The chief curator of London Zoo probably has more experience of penguins than most. When it comes to love, he thinks we humans could learn a thing or two from them.

"I think there is something we can learn from penguins and other species in the way that they're tolerant of same-sex relations," Brian Zimmerman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation ahead of Valentine's Day on Thursday. "Humans could take lessons from other animals as it is about survival at the end of the day and caring. We have a lot to learn from penguins."

London Zoo is currently home to three same-sex Humboldt penguin couples – two male and one female – out of a total of 95 penguins, a higher percentage than the 5 percent of the human population estimated to be LGBT+. Examples of same-sex pairs at other zoos around the world are common. Earlier this year, two male penguins hatched an egg at a zoo in Australia.

Same-sex relations occur regularly amongst birds in particular, according to Zimmerman. "Penguins are one example, but (it is common in) parrots and doves as well," he said.

Penguins first arrived at London Zoo in 1865, 37 years after it first opened as a centre for scientific study. They have been housed since 2011 in 'Penguin Beach', which encompasses a 1,200 square metre (1,400 square yard) pool and various forms of natural habitat.

The Penguin Pool, designed by Russian emigre architect Berthold Lubetkin, was closed in 2004. For Zimmerman, same-sex animal pairs capture the public's imagination because they hold a mirror up to society.

"There are a lot of species where we haven't observed same-sex relations, but we are learning more all the time," he said. "The more we study them, particularly in a zoo environment where we can spend more time getting to know the individuals, the more we learn that same-sex pairings are more common than we suspected."

(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

(With inputs from agencies.)

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