8 Humboldt penguins arrive in Mumbai screamed the headlines back in July. Now only 7 remain.

 

 

Like people keep dogs of certain pedigree just to use them as status symbols, the Mumbai Byculla Zoo, thought it would be a wise a decision to bring in penguins! (yeah, animals native to some of the coldest temperatures) to India. They said the batch of penguins would be the first to be displayed in India in nearly two decades and it would serve as an image boost for it. The penguins came in July and were in quarantine when one of the animals nicknamed Dory died recently due to a bacterial infection. The birds were to be kept for public viewing sometime next month.

 

 

The Quarantine was to be used to acclimatise the animals, but sadly it ended up in tragedy and the Mumbai Zoo dug itself a deeper grave, one that it easily crawl out of, thanks to the political patronage it enjoys. The five male and three female penguins were brought from South Korea by air.

 

 

Who is to blame?

 

 

Just so that the Mumbai Zoo could keep its flagging fortunes up and eat another few crores in the name of development and upkeep of the institution, innocent animals are losing their lives. Deaths in the Byculla zoo have been a regular affair, and it’s not because the animals are dying of old age, it is because of the lax and callous attitude of the zoo officials, management and yes, the politicians involved. Yes, because now even politicians have a say in as to which animals are to be brought to the zoo. It had the involvement of the Yuva Sena Chief Aditya, son of Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray. No one had asked for it,then why bring it? There was a huge outcry when the decision was taken and yet the birds were brought in to cater to the youth leader's whims. The weather is in Mumbai is not suited to the birds and needlessly money was pumped into a failing project. And to top it all the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has the gall to write to the procurement agency that they wanted a replacement to the 18-month female penguin which had died. No lessons learnt here.

 

 

Where did the money go?

 

 

Reports state that the birds were acquired from the Seoul zoo for around Rs 2 crore, as part of its ambitious Rs 2.50 crore modernisation plan. The Sanjay Gandhi National Park and Byculla Zoo regularly applies for funds in the name of development. If one were to look at the enclosure in which these flightless birds swim in, one would see that it was not even as big as a normal swimming pool. The BMC has prepared a special 1,700 sq ft air-conditioned enclosure with an average 16-17 degrees C and a 6,000-8,000 litre water pool as the permanent residence for these birds. Meanwhile the quarantine area was restricted to merely 250sqft. Calculate that in human living standards and you will see the results. Now you can imagine where the crores taken in the name of the birds were siphoned off to.

 

 

The Grave Injustice

 

 

These birds, brought in for the public’s viewing pleasure and filling up of the zoo’s coffers, came at a cost and it’s not just monetary. The birds also have had to go through a lot of trauma to be uprooted from their colony and be transported miles away from their natural habitat. The Humboldt penguin is a South American species that breeds in coastal Peru and Chile. The artificial environment created for housing these animals no doubt will only serve to distress them and not help them adjust. When did artificial plants, coloured rocks and patches of cold water serve as proper environment?

 

 

The deplorable condition of the Byculla Zoo

 

 

According to a report, in 2010, for instance, 11 zoo animals died of various ailments in a span of three months. The included a lioness, an alligator and some deer. In fact, in 2010-'11 the zoo lost 150 animals and birds, recording the highest mortality rate among all Indian zoos. Animal rights activists have routinely criticised the zoo authorities for not ensuring 24-hour veterinarian services on the premises and not providing companions for lonely inhabitants. The zoo director, however, blamed the lack of space on for the high rate of animal casualties. Byculla Zoo has the worst mortality rate (12.1 percent) among zoos in the country. Now add to that Mumbai’s weather humid weather conditions and lack of proper insight into the upkeep of exotic and endangered species, and you have a recipe for disaster in hand.

 

 

This is why Dory died.