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Same-Sex Penguin Couple At San Francisco Zoo Hailed As Model Foster Parents

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- As Pride weekend approaches, one same-sex couple at the San Francisco Zoo is setting an example of parenthood that would make anyone proud.

Penguin Island at the zoo is a favorite place for kids from Murdock-Portal Elementary in Cupertino. Not just because they're the school mascot, but also because of how funny they look.

"They look like human babies. But…but human babies covered in black and white!" said 7-year-old kids Ray and Ambika.

The zoo has one of the most successful breeding programs of Magellanic penguins in the world.  But no one there is better at raising chicks than Eduardo and Rio, an all-male couple who paired up about three years ago.

Anthony Augello, the zoo's Assistant Curator of Birds and Reptiles, says the couple has become the superstars of foster parenting.

"Anytime we have an egg, that's really valuable for the species survival plan, we automatically put it with our foster same-sex couple, because they're fantastic parents," Augello explained.

Rio is the calm, unflappable one; Eduardo, not so much.

"He's very flamboyant," said penguin specialist Eva Solano. "He likes to just, sort of, be seen. He is completely fabulous. They both are."

Solano said not every breeding pair does a good job parenting and not all couples get along. But Rio and Eduardo have become an amazing team, building the best nests in the colony and carefully tending to their borrowed egg and later providing care and food for their adopted chicks.

To the humans there, the pair has been a surprising source of inspiration.

"See, here's the thing. Here's what we can learn from nature.," said Augello. "No one's sitting there putting parameters on this. They just do what they do. No one's judging. This whole colony gets along. No one's treated any differently. So they don't really put titles on things like we tend to do."

The zoo staff says penguins have relationships that are just as varied and complicated as those of humans.  The only difference is they're willing to live and let live.

The same-sex couple has raised four chicks in the past three years. Their latest is currently in "fishing school" and will be part of the yearly "March of the Penguins," when the youngsters join the colony sometime in July.

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