Against the wishes of animal protection advocates and in the midst of citizen protests, the penguins have arrived at the Byculla zoo.
That the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) would stubbornly plough ahead despite the many animal welfare concerns that were raised and be willing to spend crores on obtaining and housing eight Humboldt penguins (it is estimated their upkeep alone will cost 19 crore) when Mumbaikars are suffering from potholed roads, water logging during monsoons, and water shortages is baffling and demonstrates an utter disregard for both the animals’ and citizens’ needs.
The natural habitat of Humboldt penguins is in South America along the Pacific coast. There, the cold current flowing in from Antarctica creates a nutrient-rich environment that they can survive in. Humboldt penguins are tremendous swimmers. In nature, they dive up to 150 metres underwater and swim up to 20 or even 30 miles per hour. At the Byculla zoo, in comparison, they will have the space of what can probably be considered the equivalent of a bathtub for a human. Can you imagine being jailed in a bathtub all of your life?
The penguins are built by nature to live in their natural habitat. They have two thick layers of overlapping feathers and a layer of blubber for insulation. This means high electric bills for temperature control at the Byculla zoo if there is any hope of keeping these animals healthy and alive. (Yet, shockingly, the penguin enclosure reportedly is not yet ready.) It also means the penguins will likely always have to be kept inside a temperature-controlled enclosure. What a sad, horrible life.
That these particular penguins were already being kept in captivity and sent from South Korea and not South America is also no excuse. They still did not have to be forced to face the trauma of being put into the cargo hold of an airplane and shipped thousands of miles. It is almost unimaginable how terrifying the experience of being put on a truck, in a crate, and inside a noisy airplane would have been for these gentle animals.
There are thought to be only between 3,300 and 12,000 Humboldt penguins left in nature now, but keeping eight of them miserable at the Byculla zoo does absolutely nothing to help them survive in their natural homes. They are suffering from the effects of overfishing and other threats – challenges that true conservationists and environmentalists are working to address.
The jailing of these animals at the Byculla zoo will not contribute to the public’s understanding of their plight. Instead, it will only show youngsters and other visitors how they behave when they are depressed or perhaps even when sick. It may also encourage disrespect towards them, as the message the Byculla zoo will be sending is that they think it is acceptable to deny penguins adequate space and the opportunity to engage in most of their natural behaviour.
I call upon all caring citizens to write to the BMC and let them know that we do not support the keeping of these penguins in Mumbai and to urge them to refrain from making the same mistake again with any other species.
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