RICHMOND, Va. -- The world’s oldest known African penguin, ET, died at the age of 43, according to the Metro Richmond Zoo. Officials say she died peacefully from natural causes last Saturday.
A favorite among zoo staff and guests, ET was born in Detroit on January 28, 1980, and later moved to the Columbus Zoo where she was named in 1982, the same year the movie “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” was released.
ET became a founding member of the Metro Richmond Zoo’s penguin colony when she arrived in 1995. ET is survived by her third mate, Einstein, with whom she lived in a private space but will now rejoin the colony.
ET is preceded in death by two previous mates and at least one daughter who lived to be 37. ET laid more than 45 eggs during her years in Richmond, contributing greatly to the survival of her species.
African penguins are endangered with an average lifespan of 15-20 years in the wild. They are native to the coast of Namibia and South Africa.
Just a few months ago, online voters lifted ET to a “Flipper Four” finish in Penguins International’s March of the Penguin Madness tournament. Her biography for the competition reads, “Despite my age, I’m still quite feisty and love to swim.”
Caretakers say ET received medication for arthritis, a common ailment among elderly penguins, and developed impaired vision in one eye. Despite her challenges, ET enjoyed a strong quality of life until the very end.
A Facebook post from Metro Richmond Zoo details her final hours, saying ET acted normally during the morning feeding on June 17th but did not respond to her caretaker in the evening. A veterinary technician examined ET in the zoo’s temporary clinic but it was clear her time was limited.
“Her last moments were spent surrounded by many of the staff who cared for her throughout the years,” according to the zoo.
They add, “ET will be missed. Long live the Queen! ET, phone home!”