Penguin becomes 'guide bird' for its friend with cataract forming 'extraordinary' relationship

Staff at Birdworld in Farnham say the duo, called 'Penguin' and 'Squid', have been developing a "remarkable" relationship Credit: Birdworld

A three-year-old penguin at a bird park in Surrey has taken on the role of 'guide bird' for its cataract-afflicted companion.

Staff at Birdworld in Farnham say the duo, called 'Penguin' and 'Squid', have been developing a "remarkable" relationship from their early days as adolescent chicks.

They say Squid is often disoriented and relies on Penguin to act as her eyes, after developing cataracts - a debilitating condition that clouds the lens of the eye and impairs vision.

The two African penguins are said to have amazed Birdworld's keepers, with Squid relying on Penguin's "unwavering calmness."

By standing close to the keepers, Penguin inadvertently became Squid's beacon, guiding her around the enclosure and acting as her “eyes.”

Polly Branham, Living Collections Manager at Birdworld, said: "The intuitive behaviour observed between Penguin and Squid has revealed a remarkable level of empathy and understanding, showcasing the profound connections that can form within the animal kingdom."

Penguin's journey began during the pandemic, facing an unknown illness that required hands-on care.

Staff say this challenging start made him exceptionally timid, and heavily dependent on keepers.

Miraculously, he overcame these hurdles, growing stronger and eventually integrating with the colony at the park. 

Penguin and Squid have formed an "extraodinary" friendship. Credit: Birdworld

When Squid was hatched, staff say she displayed the typical lively and vocal traits of a penguin chick, despite developing cataracts at just six weeks old - a unique occurrence within her otherwise healthy family.

According to Polly Branham, "in the penguin community, where social bonds and mutual tolerance are crucial, Squid's being partially sighted posed a manageable challenge, as long as she could engage in natural behaviours."

Having been nurtured within the colony, Squid honed her skills alongside her peers.

As she ventured from the nest, Penguin, too, was embracing his newfound strength on the beach, learning the essence of being a penguin.

Their simultaneous journeys of discovery led to a strong bond , with Squid's boldness perfectly complemented by Penguin's patience, making them an inseparable duo.

"We didn’t expect Penguin and Squid to form such a close bond, and it's evident that Penguin's resilience significantly influenced Squid's self-assurance,” added Senior Penguin Keeper, Natalie Marshall.

At 26 acres, Birdworld is one of the UK’s largest bird parks. Home to over 150 species of birds, with 40% facing extinction, the park also houses goats, rabbits, pigs, and sheep at its Jenny Wren Farm.

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Cataracts in Penguins

  • Polly Branham, Living Collections Manager at Birdworld, said penguins are a long-lived bird, with some reaching as old as 40 in captivity.

  • This means it's not unusual for zoos to be managing age-related health conditions for their penguins.

  • This normally presents as arthritis in their legs but it can also take the form of cataract in their eyes.