World’s Oldest African Penguin Dies at Age 43

Jun 22, 2023

The Metro Richmond Zoo is saddened to report the passing of ET, an African penguin. She died peacefully on Saturday, June 17 from natural causes. She was 43 years old.

In the wild, the average lifespan of African penguins is around 15-20 years, so ET lived an extraordinarily long, happy life. At the time of her passing, ET held the crown for the world’s oldest known living African penguin. Until a new penguin lives longer than 43 years 4 months and 20 days, she will keep the title of the oldest African penguin to have ever lived on record.

More importantly than any title ET held, 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.

ET hatched at the Detroit Zoo on January 28, 1980, and 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 arrived at the MRZ in 1995 as an original member of our penguin colony.

Penguins are monogamous and will mate for life. She had three mates during her life at the MRZ since she outlived two of them. Her living mate, Einstein rejoined the penguin colony on Sunday morning.

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.

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. Our staff moved ET to our temporary vet clinic where she was seen by our vet tech. At this point, it was clear ET was passing away. Her last moments were spent surrounded by many of the staff who cared for her throughout the years. Jessica Gring, one of our lead zookeepers, held ET in her arms and felt her take one last breath and then pass away.

ET will be missed. Long live the Queen! ET, phone home!