Lesbian Penguins Shack Up at Israeli Zoo

Workers Thought Couple Was Straight — Tests Proved Otherwise

Hey, Ladies!: Suki and Chupchikoni, the Ramat Gan Zoological Center’s lesbian penguin couple.
Tibor Jager
Hey, Ladies!: Suki and Chupchikoni, the Ramat Gan Zoological Center’s lesbian penguin couple.

By Ruth Schuster

Published December 19, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(Haaretz) — Israel is famously tolerant of its gay community, by and large, for which two penguins at the Ramat Gan Safari park can bless their lucky stars.

Penguins pair for life, choosing their mate during adolescence. They do the same at the Ramat Gan Zoological Center. Thusly did Suki and Chupchikoni, two young Jackass penguins in the flock at the zoo.

Like in the case of, say, corn snakes or Siberian hamsters, “There is no way of telling a male penguin from a female just by looking at them,” explains Safari spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz. “But usually the keepers can guess the gender by size and behavior.”

The Safari keepers figured that Suki, the smaller one, was female and that Chupchikoni was male, albeit a rather diminutive one. What was sure is that the two South African penguins took up housekeeping together.

Like all penguins, Jackasses – also known as black-footed penguins – live in colonies. The colony geography is neatly mapped out and the couples return to the same nesting sites year after year.

Suki and Chupchikoni have yet to build a burrow of their own, but they have clearly set up house together, creating a scrape into which they collect nesting materials. So far, all very conventional. Nobody at the Safari ever doubted that Chupchikoni was a boy – in fact, in colloquial Hebrew the word “chupchik” means “thingie.” That sort, too.

Meanwhile, an Israeli veterinary student doing research on diagnosing avian malaria, which is rather different from human-type malaria, took samples from the Safari penguins. The flightless fowl suffer badly from the mosquito-borne malady, making them a good subject for testing.

The blood samples taken from the birds were analyzed by a lab in South Africa, which among other things, listed the sex of each avian subject. And lo, the results were not as assumed.

Much to the keepers’ surprise, the results showed that Chupchikoni was a female.

“We had no doubt about Suki, as she is quite small,” said Tamuz Setti, head of the Safari Avian Department, and the blood tests showed that she really is.

Could the two lady penguins have chosen to pair because they had no alternative? Not at all. “There are a few young available males in the exhibit. We are certain that they made a choice to be together,” Setti says.

Suki and Chupchikoni are far from being the only homosexual animals on the record. Gay behavior in penguins has been observed as far back as 1911, when a revolted arctic explorer George Murray Levick described it as “depraved” – in a report written in Greek instead of English, lest the general public learn of the fowls’ predilection, and get ideas. How times have changed.

For more stories, go to Haaretz.com or to subscribe to Haaretz, click here and use the following promotional code for Forward readers: FWD13.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.