The Aquarium of Niagara is mourning the death of one of its beloved penguins, Opus.
Opus the Humboldt penguin was humanely euthanized Tuesday after a period of declining health that included severe joint deterioration and arthritis. The Aquarium of Niagara’s animal care staff and veterinarians made the decision after medications and therapies meant to ease Opus’ discomfort and improve her condition proved insufficient at helping her maintain a decent quality of life.
Opus was 32 years old and the oldest member of the Aquarium of Niagara’s colony. The median life expectancy for a female Humboldt penguin is 17 years old.
Opus was hatched at the Aquarium of Niagara on March 16, 1988. She was one of the first birds to enjoy the $3.6 million makeover of the penguin exhibit, “Penguin Coast,” in 2018. The renovation helped the venue earn accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and restart its Humboldt penguin breeding program. The Aquarium of Niagara is one of just 20 accredited zoos and aquariums to house Humboldt penguins.
“It’s always difficult to say goodbye to an animal, especially one as well-loved as Opus,” Executive Director Gary Siddall said. “But we are heartened that Opus was able to live out her legacy in a state-of-the art habitat where she received the highest standard of care.”
Opus was a true ambassador for the vulnerable Humboldt penguin species and often participated in the Aquarium of Niagara’s popular animal encounter program – and media interviews. She even took a field trip to Sahlen Field to celebrate and promote a partnership with the Buffalo Bisons.
Humboldt penguins are typically found in bonded pairs, but Opus chose not to take another mate after her own mate, Peeker, died in 2013. Instead, Opus formed strong bonds with her keepers.
“As animal care professionals, our highest commitment is to the welfare of our animal collection,” Director of Animal Care Richelle Swem said. “We are proud that, under our care, Opus nearly doubled her median life expectancy, and was able to live a full and impactful life that inspired so many to care more deeply about Humboldt penguins.”
Images courtesy of the Aquarium of Niagara.