Beloved Knoxville Zoo penguin 'Gypsy' dies at 30

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Zoo Knoxville announced the death of beloved zoo ambassador “Gypsy," an African penguin.

The 30-year-old penguin began exhibiting serious health problems suddenly on Sunday, February 4, 2018, according to the zoo.

Her team of caregivers, led by Dr. Andrew Cushing from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, performed a blood transfusion using blood donated from two other penguins in her flock. She was monitored throughout the night Sunday by Dr. Cushing. However, her health continued to decline rapidly and the difficult decision was made Monday to humanely euthanize her when it became clear she would not recover.  

Gypsy was a well-known and beloved ambassador for Zoo Knoxville, inspiring guests to connect with and care about her species through hundreds of behind-the-scenes encounters over the years.    

Gypsy first came to Zoo Knoxville in 1992 from King’s Island, Ohio. She successfully hatched her only offspring in 1994. In 2001, she traveled to Memphis Zoo to be part of their flock, returning to Knoxville permanently in 2004 on the recommendation of the African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP), which manages the breeding and social placement of all African penguins in zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)

Native to southern Africa, the species was abundant as recently as the early twentieth century but is now endangered due to threats that include habitat loss and massive declines in prey abundance, which has resulted in a steep population decline.

Zoo Knoxville works as part of the AZA SAFE program, a collaborative effort of AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums and African penguin conservation experts including representatives from the AZA African Penguin SSP, South African government agencies, breeding colony managers, non-governmental conservation organizations, and academic institutions to identify and prioritize conservation actions to save them from extinction. 

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