A day after one of the eight Humboldt penguins, Dory, brought to the Byculla zoo died, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) demanded a replacement, while passing the buck to the agency that procured the penguins from South Korea.
The BMC’s demand came even as the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), a statutory advisory body advising the Government of India on animal welfare, said it will write to the Central Zoo Authority (CZA) asking them to send the seven remaining penguins back to Seoul, South Korea.
“Immediate steps need to be taken by CZA to send these penguins back to a more hospitable environment or even back to where they came from. We are going to send an advisory to the central government that in future no such stupid plans should be sanctioned just for the sake of entertainment,” said Dr Chinny Krishna, vice chairman, AWBI, based out of Chennai.
A post-mortem report said the penguin might have died because of infection that led to blood poisoning and eventual death.
Unfazed by the criticism by opposition parties and animal welfare activists, who have been questioning the plan to bring penguins at Byculla zoo, a civic official said they would get a replacement before opening the enclosure to the public. As a precautionary measure, a team of doctors from the Bombay Veterinary College will inspect the health of the remaining penguins.
Sudhir Naik, deputy municipal commissioner, who is in charge of zoo, said, “We are insisting on getting a replacement because it was the contractor’s responsibility to maintain the penguins while they were quarantined . We have also requested the Bombay Veterinary College to send a team of doctors to check the health of the other penguins.”
According to a contract between the civic body and the procurement agency, the birds’ maintenance was the responsibility of the agency for three months from the day they were brought to the zoo. The penguin died three days before the agency’s responsibility ended.
According to civic officials, Dory showed symptoms of dullness, lack of appetite, greenish stools and laboured breathing, on October 18. She was immediately attended to by veterinary doctors and an exotic birds’ specialist, with experience in handling penguins abroad, was put in charge of the treatment. Another Avian specialist was consulted on October 22. But Dory did not respond to treatment and died on Sunday around 8.17 am.
Officials from the AWBI said they were disappointed with the incident even after several warnings were issued to the Byculla Zoo by them since the proposal was first floated by the civic body in 2012.
In 2014, AWBI had written to the CZA highlighting the deplorable condition of animals at the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo (Byculla Zoo) and that the proposal to buy the eight penguins should be scrapped. “We are aware about the awful condition of the zoo and they do not have the required expertise to treat such birds. Penguins do not belong in the Byculla zoo,” said Krishna, adding that if action is not initiated fast then it is a threat to the lives of the remaining seven penguins.
Following demands by political parties of initiating an inquiry into the incident, Naik said, “As the post-mortem report clearly states clinical reasons and no negligence for the penguin’s death, we do not see a need for any inquiry as of now.” However, zoo officials will submit a fact-finding report to civic chief Ajoy Mehta.
Mehta has also instructed the chief engineer of the BMC’s vigilance department to carry out an inspection of the ongoing construction work of the enclosures, once every month. For about two months, the inspection has been carried out and there were no deficiencies raised by the contractors.
While some civic officials said they may have to defer the plan to open the penguin enclosure for the public by mid-November as declared earlier, Dr Sanjay Tripathi, director of Byculla zoo said: “We have scheduled the display for mid-November at the zoo’s interpretation centre and we will be going ahead with it. The other seven penguins are under constant observation and are healthy.”