World’s oldest African penguin passes away


Zoo mourns loss of 43-year-old penguin named ET

The Metro Richmond Zoo (MRZ) recently announced that ET, a 43-year-old African penguin, has passed away. According to an organizational release,1 she died peacefully from natural causes on Saturday, June 17, 2023.

ET the African penguin (All images courtesy of Metro Richmond Zoo).

ET the African penguin (All images courtesy of Metro Richmond Zoo).

The average lifespan of African penguins is in the wild is approximately 15 to 20 years old. So ET lived a long life, holding the title of the oldest African penguin to have ever lived at 43 years 4 months, and 20 days.

According to the release,1 “She was a favorite among zoo visitors and staff. Many people across the world loved her. Earlier this year, she ‘competed’ in Penguins International’s March of the Penguin Madness tournament. She made it to the “Flipper Four” round thanks to your votes.”

Born on January 28, 1980, at Detroit Zoo, ET later moved to the Columbus Zoo where she was named in 1982, the same year the movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial was released. ET was brought to the MRZ in 1995 as an original member of the penguin colony. Penguins are monogamous and will mate for life, but because she outlived 2 of her mates, ET had 3 mates during her lifetime. Her living mate, Einstein, rejoined the penguin colony on Sunday morning.1

African penguins are endangered, and she contributed greatly to her species. She laid over 45 eggs during her time with us. She certainly had strong genetics because one of her daughters lived to age 37. Like most elderly penguins, ET developed arthritis for which she received medication, and she had impaired vision in one eye. ET’s quality of life was strong until the very end. She always loved to swim and was seen in her pool the day before she died.

Lead zookeeper Jessica Gring holding ET.

Lead zookeeper Jessica Gring holding ET.

“During the morning feeding on June 17, ET acted normally. She always had a saucy personality. In the evening, she didn’t come over when called by her caretaker which was highly unusual,” according to the release. The zoo staff then moved ET to a temporary veterinary clinic where she was seen by the veterinary technician who recognized ET was passing away. Her last moments were spent surrounded by staff who took care of her during her life. Jessica Gring, a lead zookeeper, held ET in her arms and felt her take one last breath and then peacefully pass.1

“ET will be missed. Long live the Queen! ET, phone home!,” the zoo stated, in the release.


World’s oldest African penguin dies at age 43. News release. Metro Richmond Zoo. June 22, 2023. June 23, 2023.

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