TORONTO – Toronto's zoo is splitting up a pair of male penguins whose affection has drawn headlines and jokes about "Brokeback Iceberg."
The African penguins have shared the nest they built since coming to the zoo about a year ago. But since the penguins are an endangered species, zoo officials plan to separate Pedro and Buddy so they can mate with females.
The pair has what's known as a "social bond," but it's not necessarily sexual, Tom Mason, the zoo's curator of birds and invertebrates, said Wednesday.
The zoo has received hundreds of calls about the pair. Mason said he even got a call from someone claiming to represent a group called the Canadian Society for Gay Animals. Such a group could not immediately be located.
The story of the same-sex pair has gone viral online, leading to cheeky YouTube videos. Late-night TV comics have jumped into the icy waters of penguin passion. Jimmy Kimmel riffed on the story during a recent monologue, calling it "Brokeback Iceberg" and claiming the lovebirds were spotted at a Lady Gaga concert.
But it's really not the way it looks, Mason said.
"Penguins are so social they need that ... company. And the group they came from was a bachelor group waiting for a chance to be paired up with females," said Mason, who received the penguins from a U.S. zoo earlier this year. "They had paired up there, they came to us already paired, and it's our job to be matchmakers to get them to go with some females."
Buddy, who is 21, had a female partner for 10 years and produced some offspring but his partner died, Mason said. Pedro, 10, has yet to produce offspring.