A day after an 18-month-old female Humboldt penguin, Dory, died at Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo in Byculla, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has directed Goatrade Farming Company, the procurement agency, to provide another penguin as replacement. In the face of severe criticism from political leaders and animal rights activists for the death, the zoo authorities and civic officials insisted that the plan to place for public viewing the Humboldt penguins, natives of Peru and Chile, would not be rolled back, though the inauguration of the penguin enclosure will be postponed to December.
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Officials said they were keeping a close watch on the remaining seven penguins scheduled to be shifted to a special enclosure in December.
Civic officials pointed out that the agency that procured the eight penguins from Seoul, South Korea for Rs 2 crore in July was made responsible for maintenance of the birds for three months. “The penguins were their responsibility from July 28 when they reached the zoo and are liable for the loss of the penguin. We have written to them to purchase another one,” said deputy municipal commissioner Sudhir Naik.
Director of the zoo, Dr Sanjay Tripathi, stated that their primary concern was to closely monitor health of the seven penguins. Their stool has been sent for testing to ensure they are not suffering from a similar infection. “While we were treating the sick penguin, we were unable to separate her from the others as they are close as a colony and separating them may have put them under distress. We are giving them anti-stress medication along with vitamins for a week,” he said.
An official at the zoo said the penguin could have had a low immunity before she was brought to Byculla zoo. “We have no idea about her past illnesses and no records from the previous zoo. The penguin’s immunity may have been weak which could have been aggravated by the environment. We know that the food has not caused it since others would have shown similar symptoms as well,” said the official. The BMC has also written to the Bombay Veterinary Hospital to conduct an inspection of the premises where the penguins are quarantined.
Animal rights activists had pointed out that Mumbai’s humid weather is not right for Humboldt penguins. A staffer at the quarantine section stated that the BMC had installed Daikin air conditioning units which cannot cool below 16 degrees Celsius, even though the optimal temperature for these birds is between 12 degrees to 18 degrees. “They are supposed to install industrial air conditioning units to ensure a stronger air conditioning capacity. But all the air conditioning units which have been installed can only offer a range of 16 degrees to 26 degrees,” said the staff member.
When contacted, Tripathi stated that at the previous facility, the penguins were always kept between 16-20 degrees. “We have currently kept the temperature of the air and water at 18 degrees. We control the humidity to 65 per cent by the three humidifiers and we have six 3-tonne air conditioning units and will install chillers in the quarantine section in a couple of days,” he said.
The one-and-a-half year old penguin died on October 23 of bacterial infection and dysfunctional liver. Despite round-the-clock observation by experts and medical treatment, the penguin did not respond to any medical treatment for nearly a week.
According to investigations, prima facie the doctors suspect the penguin died of an intestinal infection. Its liver, spleen, kidney, heart and lung have been preserved for histopathology. “We will have to wait for the final report from the microbiology department to understand what led to her death. There seems some kind of bacterial infection but we still do not know how she contracted it,” said a doctor who was part of the post-mortem team.
According to the autopsy report prepared by a three-member team, a “slimy white fluid oozed out” when external pressure was applied on the body. A similar froth oozed from the penguin’s lungs, which were found in a congested state. The heart was also not in normal condition and showed signs of haemorrhage.
“There was some infection she contracted,” the doctor said. Also, the penguin’s liver was found enlarged and entire intestine had signs of “haemorrhage” indicating blood was oozing out from different points.
The penguin had no sign of avian flu as initially suspected. “There were changes in its vital organs,” the doctor said.
The zoo is planning to take assistance from Bombay Veterinary College (BVC) for medical checks of the seven penguins. They are quarantined at the zoo. There, however, remains little expertise about penguins in Mumbai. “We are not experts on penguins. We do not know their medical conditions in detail. The zoo has still not approached us, if they do we will try to extend as much help as possible,” BVC dean Ashish Paturkar said.
Apart from questions being raised about quality of care being given to the penguins, queries have surfaced over quality of work on the penguin enclosure. The enclosure is being constructed by a joint venture between two contractors namely SIVAT, a US-based company and an Indian company Highway Construction Company.
A senior civic official stated that the process to appoint another contractor to replace Highway Construction has been initiated.
“The current contractor failed to stick to deadlines and we are not happy with their work. We have truncated their contract and they will now only construct the penguin enclosure. The marine aquarium and the rest of the work of expansion plan will be given to another contractor,” said the official.