On Wednesday, Heike Kueck, the zoo's director, said the problem was that the female Humboldt penguins have proven too shy in their advances.

 

Kueck said: "The Swedes will not make the first move."

 

The females were flown in last year in a bid to bring the males to mate and help save the Humboldt species from extinction.

 

Kueck said last year she was optimistic the initiative would be successful because zoo keepers had noticed that at one point a female penguin had managed to cause a couple of males to "separate".

 

The Bremerhaven Zoo in northern Germany, has 10 male penguins of which six have shown strong signs of preferring male company and formed couples among themselves.

 

Gay rights

 

The initiative to "turn" the penguins and make them mate had prompted a furious response from gay rights groups.

 

"The Swedes will not make the first move"

Heike Kueck,
Bremerhaven Zoo director

In a statement posted on its internet website, the zoo on Wednesday sought to defend itself from fresh criticism.

 

The statement said: "We will be delighted if the penguins form even one heterosexual couple and manage to produce first an egg, and then a little one.

 

"But of course we accept the male couples that have formed and we are not trying to enforce heterosexuality, as we were accused of doing last year."