Exactly a week after the first penguin to be born in the country emerged from a single egg that the parents had incubated for 40 days, the chick died on Wednesday night. A post-mortem conducted by a team of veterinary professors, including a pathologist, an avian expert and a microbiologist, concluded that the cause of the death was anomalies in the newborn, including a dysfunctional liver and yolk sac retention, or failure to absorb yolk. The first Humboldt penguin egg in India hatched on August 15 at Mumbai’s Veermata Jijabai Udyan, known as Byculla zoo.
The zoo authorities said the chick’s parents, Mr Molt and Flipper, had been providing good care to the newborn. “However, as a matter of surprise, the chick was found to be sinking despite good care by the parents on August 22,” said a statement issued by the zoo management. A team of veterinarians looking after the penguins in the zoo’s special penguin enclosure tried its best to treat the chick, but it was found dead the same night.
The Director of Byculla Zoo, Dr Sanjay Tripathi, told The Indian Express: “The chick was doing well and had also gained weight till 98 grams, after weighing 75 grams at birth. But on Wednesday morning, it appeared unwell.” When the doctors checked, it appeared to have stopped feeding. Zoo veterinarians began hand feeding it immediately, but the chick could not consume anything. Over the next 10-12 hours, it rapidly lost weight before being found dead on Wednesday night. Tripathi said post-mortem reports showed the chick was born with anomalies, its liver was not functioning and there was yolk sac retention. “It was due to these complications that its condition deteriorated,” he said.
The chick’s gender had not yet been ascertained through a DNA test. Tripathi said the experts they consulted had said cases, where penguins breed at a young age, have high chick mortality rates with the young ones suffering from abnormalities. “But as they grow, the survival rate of the chicks increases.”
Mr Molt is three years old and Flipper is four-and-a-half. They are the youngest male and the oldest female penguins at the zoo. Usually, penguins mate around this age. But Flipper and Mr Molt began to breed sooner than expected — penguins in captivity usually take longer to acclimatise. The chick’s parents were said to have been “very good parents” who continuously took turns to incubate the egg. They sat by the newly hatched chick, cuddling it to provide warmth — the mother keeping it close to her underbelly.
On Friday, the zoo authorities said the parent penguins appeared very stressed and kept going to the nesting area.
“They keep sitting, trying to show that the baby is still there,” Tripathi said.
According to a research quoted by the zoo management, there is a 60 per cent mortality chance for penguin chicks owing to various conditions, including infertility of egg, malpositioning of the chick inside the egg, deformities in the newborn, inability of the parents to feed the newborn, yolk sac retention and residual albumin in the newborn. Also, the zoo management said, the first three months are crucial for the survival of a penguin chick.
On Thursday evening, the chick’s body was incinerated in the zoo. The organs have been given to the Bombay Veterinary College in Parel for DNA test. “If they are able to preserve it, then we will know the chick’s gender in the next three-four days,” said Tripathi.
Eight penguins — Donald, Daisy, Popeye, Olive, Flipper, Bubble, Mr Molt and Dory — were brought to the zoo from Seoul, South Korea, in 2016. Dory died a few months later in October 2016 due to a bacterial infection. The adult penguins are all in good health, the zoo management said on Friday.