AS a team of vets watched the live footage from a closed-circuit camera, around 6 pm on Wednesday, the egg began to crack. In a matter of two hours, on the 40th day of incubation, at precisely 8.02 pm, the first-ever penguin to be born in India popped its head out as proud parents Flipper and Mr Molt looked on closely.
“Throughout the incubation period, the parents were with their egg continuously, taking turns to incubate it. In the initial period, the mother would spend long hours sitting on the egg. Around 10 days back, she sat on the egg for 48 hours at a stretch. But as they began sensing movement inside the egg, they took turns, sometimes even shifting guard every hour,” said Dr Sanjay Tripathi, director of Byculla Zoo, or Veermata Jijabai Udyan.
As the gender of the baby penguin, born on Independence Day, will be ascertained through a DNA test, a name is still to be picked for the first India-born penguin.
The chick, born in a semi-crouched position with an arched spine, will stand on its feet after a week. It will open its eyes only after three-four days. Furry from birth, it will be about two months before its shiny black coat develops.
Although it is the couple’s first child, vets said they are “very good parents”.
“They have continuously taken care of their baby, from the time the egg was laid. Both took turns to incubate it. Now, they are sitting by the chick, cuddling it to provide warmth. The mother keeps it close to her underbelly to keep it warm,” Tripathi said.
The vets left the baby and the parents undisturbed for almost 12 hours, before a brief health check-up. “Generally, penguins weigh between 60 and 80 gm at birth, and this baby weighed 75 gm. We were thrilled to find it in great health,” Tripathi said.
A team of four vets was monitoring the egg from the time it was laid on July 5. On Wednesday, they stayed back at the zoo all night. As it was the first time they were dealing with a penguin birth, they took guidance from foreign experts. “They were in touch with their mentors in the United States for guidance and also took help from reference books. We have been following the guidelines of the Penguin Management Manual of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) right from the beginning,” Tripathi said.
As part of preparations, the zoo kept an Intensive Care Unit and an artificial incubator at hand, just in case the parents abandoned the baby.
Visitors to the zoo will not be able to see the new addition for at least three months, as the baby penguin will remain in the care of the parents.
The other Humboldt penguins in the enclosure have not been introduced to the new member yet, with a barricade preventing the baby from venturing out of the nesting area.
“The parents digest their food and regurgitate it to feed the baby. It will be fed only by its parents for the first three months until it is strong enough to take care of its own needs. During this duration, the baby will be with them in the nesting area and will not be visible to the visitors,” Tripathi added.
The zoo authorities are doubly thrilled because the captive penguins were not expected to breed so soon. “The penguins began breeding within two years of coming to the zoo. It could be the first instance in the world when such young penguins have started breeding within such a short span after coming to a zoo. Generally, they need some time to acclimatise to the surroundings,” said Tripathi.