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Scots penguins bring love in from the cold

That hoary old myth that Scandinavians are red-hot lovers has been firmly laid to rest. In fact, they now need help with their flagging libido from the allegedly dour Scots.

This, at least, is the case with penguins. Keepers from the Bergen Aquarium in Norway are visiting colleagues in Edinburgh to find out how they can re-awaken the romantic instincts of their birds, and reverse the serious lack of reproduction.

Edinburgh zoo will give their Norwegian guests a comprehensive assessment of what had gone wrong with the Gentu penguins' hormones, examining in detail every aspect of their lives from diet to nesting materials.

The 100 or so Gentus in the Scottish zoo have no such problems, leading healthy, well adjusted sex lives in nuclear families, and bringing up well- behaved chicks.

David Field, a penguin keeper at Edinburgh zoo, explained that the birds are remarkably social and romantic creatures, with attitudes which would be considered ideal for the liberated Nineties.

Pairs are loyal to each other, male penguins do not try to prove their machismo by playing around, and the "divorce" rate is extremely low. Partners tend to be changed only after one dies, and then after a period of mourning.

Males, said Mr Field, are the epitome of the modern man. "They play a full part in nest building, incubation and rearing the chicks. The pairs are also remarkably loyal to each other, and tend to stick to the same partner."

Nor are the pairings based purely on lust. The bondings start before the mating season begins and seem to grow stronger over time.

Just as in human relationships, presents mean a lot to a courting penguin. Mr Field explained: "As they prepare their nests, they start to form a very strong pair bond, through the presentation to each other of gifts, like stones, very special stones, which are round and flat, and brightly coloured, as well as small pieces of vegetation." And it is not just the male Gentus who come bearing gifts. The females are just as likely to present their own share of shiny stones and tasteful scrub. They do not seem to think they are being too forward, said Mr Field.

In Oslo, zoologist and author Olivia Sorensen said: "Obviously we are grateful for the help of the British experts. The Gentus are very nice creatures, and we want them to continue to reproduce in Bergen. As for the so-called sexual drive of Scandinavian humans, I always thought that was a strange Anglo-Saxon obsession."