With his royal blue wing band and neoprene vest, Pierre the African penguin was perhaps the most fashionable flightless bird ever to waddle at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park.
"He definitely had personality — he knew he was the alpha penguin in the aquarium," said assistant curator Vikki McCloskey.
The academy announced this week that Pierre, the oldest bird in the academy's colony of African penguins, died at the ripe old age of 33. In the wild, African penguins have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years.
He died of kidney failure, McCloskey said, but was "spunky right up to the very end."
Pierre, who wore a blue identifying band on his right wing, won fame in 2008 after a disastrous annual molt left him virtually bald. Without his waterproof feathers, Pierre had trouble keeping warm, McCloskey said.
Academy biologists created a custom-tailored neoprene wetsuit that Pierre wore for several months, providing him with an insulating layer that kept him warm. Within six weeks of wearing the suit, his feathers grew back and he no longer needed the wetsuit for protection.
Pierre's wetsuit tale was highlighted in the children's book "Pierre the Penguin, A True Story," published in 2010. It also helped to earn him his own Wikipedia page.
"It's hard to lose one of those animals that has become so ingrained in the academy's being. I always said that we all worked for Pierre and that he signed our paychecks," McCloskey said.
Pierre hatched on Feb. 16, 1983, at the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore and was raised by his parents in Maryland until he was a juvenile. Later that year, he was sent to the California Academy of Sciences with 15 other African penguins to start a new penguin colony.
During his time in San Francisco, Pierre had several mates with whom he produced 16 chicks, 27 grand-chicks, and 11 great grand-chicks. African penguins were classified as an endangered species in 2010.
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