efe-epaBy Marc Arcas San Francisco

Rio and Eduardo are a same-sex penguin couple at the San Francisco Zoo in California, where they have brought up three penguin chicks together and have become exemplary parents within the brood, their caretaker Eva Solano told EFE.

Living on Penguin Island in the California park are several dozen Magellanic penguins - a near-threatened species that nests in Patagonia - and it is not unusual, as zookeepers have noticed over the years, to see them form same-sex couples.

"I think it's natural. So it is who they are. Different individuals are different individuals: they have different personalities...There are a lot of different penguins out there for them to choose from and they chose each other," Solano told EFE, adding that they have also had gay and lesbian couples of flamingos, swans, frogs, lizards and monkeys.

What makes Rio and Eduardo such a remarkable couple above all the others isn't their sexual orientation, but rather an exceptional flair for fatherhood that makes them, in the words of their caretaker, two fantastic and incredible daddies, even better than opposite-sex couples.

These penguins, which have been "going together" for five years, have brought up three chicks since 2016, when workers at the zoo gave them the first egg to incubate, and they kept it warm and healthy until the little chick broke out of its shell.

The couple's first chick was sent to a zoo in New York, since San Francisco Zoo takes part in a population-management program for these near-threatened birds, tens of thousands of which die every year due to oceans poisoned with petroleum and other contaminants.

The successful experience with their first egg led the zookeepers to assign them another the following year, and this time Rio and Eduardo could "keep" the chick that was hatched from it.

"So we gave them the egg, they sat on it, it hatched, they raised it. I didn't have to do any intervention. A lot of the birds here, I watch very closely and if I need to go in and do anything to help out the chick or the parents, I will. They didn't need any of my help," Solano said.

Like opposite-sex couples of Magellanic penguins, Rio and Eduard share the tasks of incubation and caring for the eggs and the chicks, but as also happens in couples of different sexes, this sharing is not always equal.

According to Solano, they are concerned about each other and for their little one, because it is theirs, and they do the same as all the others and do it better than most of the couples in the zoo.

Rio and Eduardo are not the only gays on the island at present: another male couple, Ruppert and Winston, completes the gay community among the penguins, though the paternal qualities of the latter remain a mystery.

Ruppert is 5 years old and Winston 2 (Magellanic penguins are said to become adults at age 3), too young to have yet brought up a chick together, though that would not be helped by Winston's customary infidelity - he has already changed partners several times.

The caretaker joked about Winston being so young he is still experimenting to see what he wants to do with his life. EFE-EPA arc/cd