The seven Humboldt penguins at the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale zoo are set to be the newest attraction from Saturday when the penguin enclosure will be thrown open to the public.
“They are Donald and Daisy, Olive and Popeye, Mr. Molt and Bubble and Flipper,” says Dr Madhumita Kale, one of the three veterinarians looking after the penguins. She rattles off the names in twos, reflecting the buddy pairs six of them have formed. But the penguins don’t respond to their names, and their caretakers whistle instead when it’s feeding time.
“Mr Molt and Bubble are just friends and play a lot with each other. They are just one and a half years old. But they may form a pair later,” the doctor adds. Asked whether Flipper feels isolated with the rest apparently having formed pairs, Dr. Kale says, “No, I don’t think so.” The eighth penguin, Dory, died of a bacterial infection in November.
From Saturday, the Humboldt penguins, brought from South Korea last July, will be ready to meet Mumbaikars. The enclosure is housed in a separate building, where specific arrangements have been made for the protection of the flightless birds.
In the long run, a penguin may get affected in the absence of a mate. “But these penguins belonged to the same colony in South Korea. They are happy as long as they are together,” says Dr. Kale.
With her daily routine revolving around the penguins, Dr. Kale has developed a deep sense of familiarity with them.
Dr. Kale can easily distinguish Daisy from Popeye, though they all look similar. “Mr. Molt is the naughtiest of the lot, always playing and troubling the rest. So is Bubble. These two are more active in comparison to the others who are slightly older,” says Dr. Kale of her unique wards.
Bubble has a selfish streak when it comes to the pool. “If they are all playing in water, Bubble chases off the other females,” says Dr. Kale.
“They were very stressed initially, when they were brought to a new environment. But once they noticed that trusted faces were always around, they became comfortable,” smiles Dr. Kale.
The temperature of the glass enclosure is maintained at 13-14 °C. The penguins enjoy basking under the sunlight streaming in from a window at one corner. They strictly follow a sea food diet and relish the Bombay Duck fish. “But they don’t roam much. They mostly sit on the banks of the water,” Dr. Kale says. In anticipation of a threat, they jump into the water and swim to safety. Since they are not fast on foot, water is their best bet.
The penguins have responded well to the little human presence they have encountered so far. Their reaction to the throngs in the coming days, however, is a cause for concern. “I have asked the authorities to ensure that people are allowed only in small batches,” said the young veterinarian.