BALTIMORE (WJZ) — It’s breeding season at the Maryland Zoo’s Penguin Coast, keeping staff busy.

Well over 1,000 chicks have hatched since the zoo welcomed its first colony of African penguins, but the keepers say it’s more than just breeding at the Penguin Coast.

Sage, a female penguin, was the first chick of the 2019-20 breeding season to hatch on Oct. 19, 2019.

Every year, the staff chooses different themes to name the birds. Once each chick hatches, it is assigned an individual identification number and each is named according to the theme once DNA tests reveal whether the chick is male or female. Previous themes include literary characters, famous scientists, space, types of fish and types of trees.

This year, they went with spices and Sage is already adding her own flavor into the mix.

“By eight-weeks-old, they’re fully grown. They put about 10 percent of their body weight on a day, so they grow very very quickly,” said Jess Phillips, area manager of Penguin Coast at the Maryland Zoo.

Sage is already nearing her full-grown mark and now swimming on her own with the help of her keepers.

“They don’t naturally want to go in the water. It’s something in the wild you’re kind of driven to do, but now she loves to go in the water and she’s being a penguin,” said Phillips.

The $11 million exhibit opened its doors in February 2014, since then, the Maryland Zoo staff says the African penguin Colony has more than doubled in size. Now, the Penguin Coast is home to nearly 100 penguins and is the largest colony of African penguins in North America.

“These birds are used a lot for research, there’s a lot of studies they want to do as far as medication studies for penguins that might be used in South Africa, Namibia,” said Phillips. “Currently, there’s about 25,000 pairs of birds left in the wild, which they’ve lost about 99.7 percent of their population since the early 1900s, so they’re endangered and they’re dying off…the main reason they’re dying off is for lack of food.”

Since many penguins are temperate, the endangered species found only in Namibia, South Africa seems to enjoy the weather in Baltimore since it’s similar to their native climates.

So far, 11 chicks have hatched this season and the Maryland Zoo is expecting a few more by the end of this breeding season in March.

If you’re interested in checking out Sage for yourself, the staff says she should be ready to be viewed by the public by this Spring at the Penguin Coast located in the Maryland Zoo.

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