Almost two years after a proposal for bringing penguins to Byculla zoo was approved, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is now putting finishing touches on an enclosure for the maintenance of eight Humboldt penguins that will arrive from Seoul in South Korea in 15 days.
While the original expected expenditure for the venture was pegged at Rs 113 crore, the BMC has revealed that it is set to incur an expenditure of Rs 45 crore for a period of five years, including expenses on the climate-controlled enclosure and specialised veterinary doctors who will care for the birds during their three-month quarantine period.
The public will likely be able to see the penguins by November.
The BMC has appointed three separate agencies for the venture — Oceanis, an Australian agency to care for the penguins; SIVAT, a US-based company, and Hindustan Construction Company, which is designing and constructing the enclosure spread across an area of 1,550 square feet and a 250-square-foot quarantine area. The construction of both the enclosures, however, are still underway. While the quarantine section is expected to be completed in the next two weeks, the work on the final enclosure will take another three months.
After their arrival, the veterinarians, who will accompany the captive-bred penguins to Mumbai, will monitor their health for three months.
After that, marine biologists and veterinarians from Oceanis will take over. The contract for maintenance of the enclosure, the penguins as well as a tunnel aquarium, will be for a period of five years.
The BMC has also planned that some of the zoo staff will be trained by the biologists for these five years and after BMC’s contract with the three firms expire, the penguins will be cared for by the zoo staff.
“We cannot allow an agency to maintain the enclosure and care for the penguins for an indefinite time period. Our staff will be trained and once they are ready, they will take over,” said Dr Sanjay Tripathi, the Director of Byculla zoo.
Humboldt penguins originally hail from the coastal region of Chile and Peru. “The air-cooling device will maintain the required temperature between 4-24 degree Celsius and we have used insulating materials to ensure that heat doesn’t escape. The environment around them – including the air, water and food – will be strictly controlled,” said Tripathi.
He added that the penguins, who prefer three varieties of fish including Mackerel, Anchovies and Herrings, will cumulatively need 7-8 kg of fish on a daily basis.
Among the eight penguins, three are males and five are females. “While six of the penguins are adults and are almost at the breeding age, and two of them are only a couple of months old,” said Tripathi. Preparing for the worst case scenario, the tender document also lists a fine in case any of the penguins die due to poor management.
“We will recover double the purchasing cost of the penguin, in case something untoward happens to them,” he said.
Apart from the enclosure for the penguins, the renovation work of the Byculla zoo, which is a Rs 150-crore project, is expected to start in a month and will be completed in two years.
The Byculla zoo has been in a dismal condition for a few years now and out of 17-18 exhibits, around 10 of them are empty.
As part of the renovation work, the BMC is in the process of acquiring a seven acres plot which was leased out and purchasing a four acre plot which currently belongs to an ice factory.
In order to increase the variety of animals and fill in the empty enclosures, the BMC is in talks with other zoos in the country to bring in other animals including lions, tigers, jackals and wolves as part of the exchange proposal.
“Under this proposal, zoos can exchange animals if they have a surplus. For instance, we are in talks with a zoo in Gujarat to bring one of their lions in exchange for our birds,” said Tripathi.
He added that the BMC is planning to design an African Savannah in the seven acre land it will acquire which will include exotic animals like zebras, giraffes and ostriches as well as an enclosure for snakes.