Zookeepers to put 'gay' penguins back on straight and narrow

A PLAN by a German zoo to test the sexual appetites of a group of suspected homosexual penguins has sparked outrage among gay and lesbian groups, who fear zookeepers might force them to turn straight.

"All sorts of gay and lesbian associations have been e-mailing and calling in to protest," said a spokesman for the zoo in the north-western city of Bremerhaven yesterday.

He said the zoo concluded the penguins might be gay after seeing male penguins trying to mate with other males and trying to hatch offspring out of stones. The birds had fooled their keepers for years into thinking they were boy and girl pairs.

German media reported that female Swedish penguins would be brought to the zoo to test the theory, but when word got out about the plan, the phones started ringing.

"Nobody here is trying to break-up same sex pairs by force," the zoo’s director Heike Kueck told public broadcaster NDR. "We don’t know if the three male pairs are really gay or just got together because of a lack of females."

Gay rights group HOSI, representing thousands of members in Austria, Germany and Switzerland, said in a prepared statement: "We deeply resent the attempts to interfere in the natural homosexual instincts of these penguins that are obviously happy in their same-sex partnerships. We urge any further attempts to break up these happy couples to be abandoned."

But the zoo, which advertises itself with the slogan "encounters of a special kind", isn’t planning to give up too easily. Humboldt penguins are considered an endangered species, which makes it all the more important that those in captivity are to reproduce.

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