The civic administration has decided it will not put seven new Humboldt penguins on display at Byculla zoo until after the mayoral elections. This means the penguins, which have been in quarantine for more than seven months, are likely to be shifted to their permanent enclosure only by late next week. It is a setback for the Shiv Sena, whose chief Uddhav Thackeray was instrumental in bringing the exotic birds to Mumbai. On Friday, civic standing committee chairman and members visited Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan and Zoo – the official name of Byculla zoo - to take stock of work on the enclosure.
With equations changing in the BMC, Shiv Sena leaders in the civic body were pushing hard for an early opening as the party still enjoys a large majority in the civic house, which will be dissolved on March 8 when newly elected representatives take over.
Outgoing mayor Snehal Ambekar of the Shiv Sena has written to civic chief Ajoy Mehta about having the penguin exhibit inaugurated by Uddhav Thackeray on March 7. However, the civic administration doesn’t seem to be in a hurry.
Leader of the house Trushna Vishwasrao alleged that the enclosure was ready and that the civic administration was deliberately delaying the opening. “We were told in the standing committee that the penguins would be shifted to the exhibit area by Thursday so we visited the zoo on Friday. But now the administration is saying that the water in the exhibit is not up to standard and has thus delaying the opening. But we are sure that the next Shiv Sena mayor and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will inaugurate the exhibit,” she said. The enclosure was originally meant to be completed in December.
While civic officials said the enclosure was ready, a report submitted to the BMC by three microbiologists stated that the pH (a measure of acidity and alkalinity) of the water was higher than the accepted standard. Upon reading the report, the civic administration postponed the shifting of the penguins. Another set of water samples will be sent for tests on Friday. Civic officials said they were being extra cautious after one of the penguins, a female, died in October.
A senior civic officer said, “The first test was done about two days ago and the result was unsatisfactory. After we clean the entire exhibit, new water samples will be sent to the laboratory on Friday. We are likely to receive the reports from these samples within 24 hours. All other work has been completed and once we receive positive results, we will immediately throw open the exhibit to the public.”
Opposition leader Pravin Chheda of the Congress said, “Why were all these tests not done earlier? This means that they were brought in a hurry to fulfill a political party’s wish.”
HC declines to stay public display
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) on Friday informed the Bombay high court that the seven Humboldt penguins will be shifted from the quarantine area to their enclosure on March 7 or 8. However, no date has been fixed for public exhibition of the flightless birds, a BMC counsel informed the court.
The court refused to stay public exhibition of the birds.
The HC was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking direction to the BMC to send back the penguins to South Korea.
The PIL requested for an urgent hearing on Friday, apprehending that the civic body had fixed a date for the public exhibition.
Eight Humboldt penguins were brought to the Byculla Zoo in July 2016. Till now, they have been put in a specially designed secluded place to acclimatise them to the change of location, and only a veterinarian and an assistant are allowed to enter the temporary enclosure. The civic body plans to exhibit the penguins in an enclosure spread over 1,550 square feet.