A diamond may be a girl’s best friend, but in the African penguin world the females have far simpler tastes. They’re extremely partial to sprigs of a plant found in many SA gardens: lavender.
Well, that’s certainly the case at uShaka Sea World in Durban. And the plant is not coveted for its oils or culinary qualities, but rather as part of the birds’ wooing ritual.
Male penguins present their feathered partners with sprigs of lavender, supplied by Sea World staff, as material with which to build their nests.
And in fact, this aromatic plant may have played a factor in the success of the breeding program at Sea World – more than 40 chicks between 2008 and 2011.
The unusual practice – believed to be a world first – began four years ago at uShaka Sea World as part of an experiment to see which nesting materials penguins liked.
UShaka Sea World director Judy Mann says the penguins are quite particular about their nests, so they usually spend quite some time searching for the right materials because they spend about 40 days sitting on the nest incubating their eggs. Incidentally, both the male and female are equally involved, and these creatures are monogamous.
A staff member suggested they try lavender – and the rest is history.
“The smell of the lavender calms the penguins down,” says Mann, “and lavender has some very strong antiseptic, anti-bacterial agents in it, so it helps to keep the nests clean – and the penguins love it.”
Mann says they’ve shared their lavender success story with other scientists at two international conferences.
“And whether the lavender has helped our breeding programme success we’re not sure, but it certainly seems to be one of the factors.
“Love is in the air and lavender is helping.
“So guys, you’ve got a new way of getting your woman – try lavender.” - Sunday Tribune