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Death of Baby Penguin in Byculla Zoo Raises Familiar Questions: Do We Really Need Them in India?

On August 15, Indians celebrated the birth of a baby penguin, India’s first, only to mourn its loss on Wednesday night when the baby succumbed to complications it apparently incurred at birth.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:August 25, 2018, 4:09 PM IST
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Death of Baby Penguin in Byculla Zoo Raises Familiar Questions: Do We Really Need Them in India?
Image tweeted by @ANI
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When two years ago the Byculla Zoo in Mumbai brought in eight Humboldt Penguins from South Korea, many had foreseen a disturbing future for the birds. The zoo nevertheless brought in the penguins and soon put them on display in artificially monitored glass enclosures.

That was in 2016. Fast forward to 2018 and one of the birds is already dead while a newly born baby penguin died within three days of being born.

On August 15, Indians celebrated the birth of a baby penguin, India’s first, only to mourn its loss on Wednesday night when the baby succumbed to complications it apparently incurred at birth.

“It was an unfortunate thing to happen but it was a birth anomaly. The baby was doing fine initially but within a day its weight started dropping. By Wednesday evening, it was dead,” Dr Sanjay Tripathi, head veterinarian and director of the Byculla Zoo, told News18.

He added that the bird’s mother was at first distraught and tried to search for the baby. But on Friday, both mother and father penguins seemed a little more relaxed.

“Mortality among infant Humboldt penguins is as high as 35-40 percent. It is common for the first clutch to not make it,” Dr Tripathi said.

The director was hopeful of a healthier clutch next year. He was also convinced that the death had nothing to do with the fact that the penguins cannot acclimatize to India’s natural environment. The fact that the penguins had mated in the first place, the doctor said, was proof that the birds have adapted well to the simulated environment, which was conducive to natural behaviour.

However, animal rights activist Anand Siva said called Byculla zoo a ‘valley of death’ and said that it was surprising of Dr Tripathi to claim the penguins had adapted based on the fact that they had procreated.

“How can penguins ever survive in India? These birds are used to diving in hundreds of kilometres of sea and walking over huge land expanses. What will they do cooped up in glass box like that if not procreate? But does that absolve the zoo of its responsibilities? No,” Siva said.

Humboldt penguins originate from the cold environs of Peru and Chile. The eight in question were bred and brought in from South Korea’s COEX Aquarium. After being kept in a 17,000 ft enclosure in 2016, the birds were moved to a larger, temperature controlled area, which was made public in November of the same year.

Siva, the vegan activist who has been vocal against the BMC’s decision to import penguins ever since 2016, called the incident a concerted disaster brought on by the greed of the municipal corporation.

“They clearly have no interest in conserving animals. They just want to exploit these poor creatures for profit. And Byculla zoo has a long history of animal death. They cannot all be circumstantial,” Siva said.

There is some data to support this claim.

In 2017, a total of 77 animals, birds and reptiles died inside the Byculla zoo. In 2010-11, a whopping 150 zoo creatures perished, the largest number to die in a single year in the last decade.

The Humboldt penguins were imported at a cost of 2.57 crores. One of the 8 penguins, a one-and-a-half-years-old female named Dory, died of liver and intestinal infection in the zoo’s quarantined section, three months after they were brought. Several environmentalists and animal rights activists had at the time protested against the bringing in of the birds. Activists such as Sunish Subramanium Kunju had blamed the penguin’s death on hospital negligence.

The zoo was also sent a notice by the Central Zoo Authority after the death of Dory, which became a political talking point in Maharashtra, with many calling out the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s ambitious project an electoral stunt, one that seems to be paying off.

According to a report in Hindustan Times, the Byculla Zoo’s revenues increased 12 times in the second quarter of 2017 after increase in ticket prices, which were hiked after the penguins were brought in. The CZA could not be reached for comment.
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