He was a clan elder. He was an ambassador. He was a friend. He was a lover… of eating raw fish and grooming people’s arms. To be clear, he was a penguin. The penguin. He was Mochica, one of the oldest penguins in the world. He died this week at the age of 31, which is still a very young and dare I say cool age for humans, but quite advanced for Humboldt penguins, which usually live to about 20 years old in captivity.
Mochica, affectionately known as “Mo” to those in his inner circle, called the Oregon Zoo home. He hatched there on July 6, 1990 and was hand-reared from birth. He was a special penguin, not like the other chicks. “More than any other penguin in the zoo’s large Humboldt colony, he enjoyed spending time with people, often choosing keepers’ quarters over the company of his fellow birds,” relates the official obituary. “It was pretty common to walk into the keeper kitchen area and find Mo ‘helping’ with the food prep or just hanging out with care staff there,” said Travis Koons, who oversees the Oregon Zoo’s birds.
But Mochica wasn’t just a teacher’s pet or an unpaid prep cook. Like many millennials, he juggled multiple positions and simultaneous job responsibilities. He also acted as an ambassador for the zoo, which in this context does not mean he was dispatched to a foreign country as a political reward, but rather that he greeted thousands of visitors while representing his vulnerable species.
Alas, the relentless march of time comes for us all. Over the past few years, Mochica had been dealing with more and more age-related ailments, including “a mature cataract in one eye, old-age haze in the other, [and] bilateral arthritis in his hips,” said Koons. In Mochica’s later days, he had difficulty seeing and sometimes walking. This led to the decision to euthanize him on Saturday.
Mochica will be remembered for his gregarious spirit, his open-minded promotion of interspecies affection, and his funny little waddle with those itty flappy wings. Please watch the following memorial video and let the tears flow freely. Rest in peace, you magnificent bastard.