Animal rights activists say endangered penguins should return to South Africa.
The arrival of a group of African Penguins at Rome's Bioparco has provoked protests from animal rights activists who are demanding that the endangered birds be returned to their natural habitat in South Africa.
The mayor of Rome, Virginia Raggi, has become embroiled in the controversy after the president of Animalisti Italiani Walter Caporale accused her of "betraying a commitment [to animal rights activists] on the dismissione of the zoo."
The Animalisti Italiani have "strongly demanded" that the penguins be transferred back to South Africa where there are specialist centres dedicated to the flightless birds.
The Bioparco will open a new area for the penguins on 28 December, with discounted tickets over the Christmas period.
The current population of African Penguins is estimated at 70,000 breeding pairs, less than 10 per cent of the population that existed in 1900. By 2010 the species was declared endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
The initial reasons for the birds' decline was the collection of penguin eggs and guano but by the 1990s the threat to their existance had switched to commerical fishing and oil pollution.
Conservationalists now warn that if authorities fail to carry out effective management of the penguins then the birds could face extinction.
The black and white birds are also known as the Black-footed Penguin or the Jackass Penguin thanks to their distinctive donkey-like bray.