CHICAGO (WLS) -- Twelve African Penguins joined the Lincoln Park Zoo this week in an exhibit that will open to the public Oct. 8.
PHOTOS: African Penguins at Lincoln Park Zoo
The warm weather penguins are from the southern tip of Africa, which makes them a perfect fit for life in Chicago, said Curator of the Birds at the Lincoln Park Zoo Sunny Nelson.
"They are suitable for our climate here in Chicago," said Nelson. "They'll be able to be out in the warmer months and they'll be able to be out in the cooler months as well."
The $7 million exhibit, called the Robert and Mayari Pritzer Penguin Cove, will be home to the twelve two foot tall waddling birds year-round. African Penguins are rare in zoos and are becoming rare in the South African wild.
"They are endangered," said Megan Ross, Vice President of the Lincoln Park Zoo. "The African Penguin population in the wild was about a million in the early nineteen hundreds, and now it's down to about fifty thousand do to fish issues, over fishing. Fish populations changing their courses as well as man made impacts like oil spills."
Eight males and four females are in the group and the zoo hopes to have a penguin population explosion over the next several years. The ultimate goal is to have about 30 penguins and share them with other zoos and aquariums.
One of the things that all penguins have in common is that they are white in the front and black in the back, said Nelson.
"What scientists think that's because while they're fishing and while they're finding prey, fish are looking up at them they won't be able to anything because they're white, and then predators like sharks and seals might not be able to see them from above because their backs are black," Nelson said.
Conservationists said this species of penguin could be extinct in 15 years unless there are more and more programs like the one starting at the Lincoln Park Zoo.