A decision by the Toronto Zoo to separate a pair of male penguins, dubbed the "gay penguins," has sparked an international outcry.
The African penguins, named Buddy and Pedro, formed a close bond while part of a "bachelor flock" at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary, Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail reported.
The penguins remained close when transferred to the Toronto Zoo, and displayed courtship and mating behavior towards each other. Because of this they were dubbed the "gay penguins," although zoo keepers said their relationship was not necessarily sexual.
“It’s a complicated issue, but they seem to be in a loving relationship of some sort,’’Joe Torzsok, chair of the Toronto Zoo's board, told the Toronto Star.
The decision to separate Buddy and Pedro was taken because the zoo wanted to breed the endangered animals and spread their good genes. But the splitting up of the "gay penguins" has resulted in a backlash from around the world, the Globe and Mail said.
Reaction has included much ribald humor, including comedian Jimmy Kimmel’s reference to “Brokeback Iceberg," but many are fiercely critical of the zoo’s decision.
It has been called unfair and heart-breaking. Others still are accusing the zoo of attempting to force the penguins into the “patriarchal sex-trade industry”.
The story has been covered in the British and US press, with the Guardian wondering if it was homophobic to separate the penguins, while the website Gawker sarcastically called Canada “evil and homophobic."
Tom Mason, the Toronto Zoo's curator of birds and invertebrates, told the National Post that with African Penguins on the edge of extinction, the zoo must encourage mating.
“If [Pedro and Buddy] weren’t genetically important, then we’d let them do their thing,” Mason told the newspaper.
The Toronto Zoo said that once the penguins have mated, they will be reunited.
More from GlobalPost: African Penguins battle extinction