One of the World's Oldest Penguins Dies in Captivity at the Oregon Zoo at 31

One of the world's oldest penguins, Mochica, has died at the age of 31.

Mochica, a male Humbolt penguin, lived his entire life at the Oregon Zoo in Portland, where he passed away over the Labor Day weekend. He hatched at the zoo in the summer of 1990 and was hand-reared by keepers.

"Mochica was the oldest male of his species in any North American zoo or aquarium, maybe the whole world," said Travis Koons, who oversees the zoo's bird population.

Wild Humbolt penguins don't usually live past the age of 20, according to a press release from the zoo. Mochica had been suffering from several age-related ailments after a several-year period of "slowing down," according to the release. Staff had been providing him with comfort measures like a daily dose of meloxicam, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, in his sustainable seafood breakfast, and laser therapy sessions.

Eventually, care staff made the decision to "humanely euthanize" Mochica, the press release said. "He had a mature cataract in one eye, old-age haze in the other, bilateral arthritis in his hips," Koons said. "He was just a very old bird. It was hard for him to see and at times difficult for him to walk."

"It's an incredibly sad day for his care team and for everyone who spent time with this amazing bird," Koons added. "We've all had times in our lives where animals have left an indelible mark on our hearts. Mochica has done that for thousands of people. He inspired generations."

Humbolt Penguins, like Mochica, are particularly at risk in the wild, the zoo said, noting that this species has a wild population of roughly only 12,000 breeding pairs. The species is native to the South American coastline off Peru and Chile.

"Humboldt penguins live in a region that's greatly affected by human activity," Koons said. "They need healthy ocean habitats to thrive."

Koons hopes that Mochica's legacy will be conservation for the Humboldt penguin species. Right now they're classified as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Humboldts are threatened by humans in their habitats. They're harmed by the overfishing of their food source and getting tangled in fishing nets. They are also often not able to breed normally because of commercial disruption to the areas where the penguins ordinarily lay their eggs.

Consumers can avoid supporting commercial activity that contributes to overfishing. Koons said average people can help make a difference "even in simple ways like downloading the Seafood Watch app and choosing sustainable seafood."

Penguins
One of the world's oldest penguins, Mochica has died at the age of 31 at the Oregon Zoo. Above: a stock image of a group of Humbolt penguins in captivity. iStock/Getty

Newsweek reached out to the Oregon Zoo for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.