Penguin sex files uncovered in Tring made public after 100 years

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A GRAPHIC report about the sex lives of penguins that was too explicit to make public 100 years ago, was discovered at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in Tring.

The Sexual Habits of the Adélie Penguins was written in 1915 by Dr George Levick following his observation of the birds during Captain Scott’s famous 1910 polar expedition.

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The descriptions of ‘hooligan’ behaviour such as rape, homosexuality, abuse of chicks and necrophilia were so shocking they were taken out of Dr Levick’s original report and only published to a few scientists.

Only two of those pamphlets remain and curator Douglas Russell found them hidden in the museum’s bird collection.

He said: “One hundred years on from Captain Scott’s last expedition, it is astonishing to find these extraordinary unpublished notes.

“The suppressed paper he attempted to publish is a fascinating insight into how far our understanding of the natural world has progressed.”

Mr Russell and his colleagues Prof William Sladen and penguin researcher David Ainley, have reinterpreted the observations and published them in the latest issue of the journal Polar Record.

Also Dr Levick’s notes and penguin specimens are currently on display in London at NHM’s exhibition on Scott’s Last Expedition.

Mr Russell said: “Levick was decades ahead of his time in making these observations – it wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists felt empowered to objectively interpret sexual behaviours in animals.

“It is only really now when looking at the rediscovered paper and field notes together that we can completely interpret some of the behaviours to which Levick alluded yet never described in his other publications.”