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German zoo fails to make gay penguins straight

BREMERHAVEN, GERMANY - Shy Swedish female penguins sent to seduce "homosexual" male Humboldt penguins in a German zoo have failed to break up any of the male-male twosomes, officials said Wednesday.

Bremerhaven Zoo last year shrugged off attacks from gay-pride groups as far away as the United States last year over its efforts to establish breeding pairs in its penguin pens.

The zoo has far too many male penguins, while Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden has an oversupply of females. The species is in danger of dying out. At Bremerhaven, the birds, which find new mates every year, form all-male pairs and adopt pebbles as if they were eggs.

Last year, officials said the females had arrived too late for pairing. And this year, the birds arrived in time, but were too shy.

"The Swedes are rather stand-offish," said zoo chief executive Heike Kueck. Once again, four local females were quickly snapped up and the rest of the 22 penguins formed broody male couples and are keeping pebbles warm.

Kueck said the project was not a gag, but part of a European species conservation project. Penguin family planning is difficult, because zoologists have difficulty telling the difference between a male and a female, and zoo broods often become lop-sided.

Last year, homosexual militants bombarded the zoo on Germany's North Sea coast with e-mails and protest letters, charging that it was interfering in the penguins' freedom of sexual orientation.

Kueck rejected this. She said the way penguins pair has nothing to do with personality but is a behavioural oddity of the species whenever females are in short supply.

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