Transport, quarantine may have affected their immunity: ‘Penguin Lady’ Dyan deNapoli
Hindustan Times spoke to Dyan deNapoli, an internationally acclaimed penguin expert, popularly known as ‘The Penguin Lady’mumbai Updated: Oct 25, 2016 14:41 IST
Following the death of the one-and-a-half-year-old female Humboldt penguin at Byculla zoo, Hindustan Times spoke to Dyan deNapoli, an internationally acclaimed penguin expert, popularly known as ‘The Penguin Lady’. Based out of Massachusetts in the US, she is the award-winning author of the book The Great Penguin Rescue and a TED speaker who has travelled the world to study penguins.
Was it advisable to bring Humboldt penguins to Mumbai, given its climate?
Humboldt penguins are a temperate species and the climate in Mumbai is not too different from where they live in the wild, in Chile and Peru. It does get warmer in India but since these penguins are housed in a climate-controlled environment, the external environment should not be an issue.
Could moulting (shedding old feathers for new ones) have caused the infection that led to the penguin’s death?
Penguins are more susceptible to illness during their moult as this is a physiologically stressful period for the bird. (Moulting last a few weeks; Dory, the female penguin that died on Sunday had finished moulting a few weeks ago, Byculla zoo authorities said.) The moult itself doesn’t cause illness, but because it requires a lot of energy for the bird to produce new feathers, they have less energy to fight off a viral or bacterial invader. Recent transport and time spent in quarantine are also potential stressors that can temporarily suppress the immune system.
What could be the other factors that led to the penguin’s death?
Based on the symptoms that you mentioned (green stools, lethargy, lack of appetite, laboured breathing and liver involvement) one possible infectious agent is aspergillosis. It is a fungal infection that penguins and other birds are prone to in the wild and in captivity – especially during times of stress. This fungal spore is ubiquitous in the environment so it’s impossible to avoid it, but just because one bird succumbs to it, doesn’t mean that others in the colony will get infected. Aspergillosis is just the most common one for penguins.
Is there a chance that the infection is contagious and could affect the other Humboldt penguins?
Until the pathology results are back, it’s impossible to know if this bird had something contagious or not, but it’s always a possibility. From the photos, she looked fairly robust and healthy a few days ago, so whatever it was may have moved fairly quickly. This is not uncommon with animals – they typically mask illnesses until they are quite sick. This is an important survival technique in the wild, but it makes it a bit harder to detect an illness in its early stages.
The Humboldt penguins follow a diet of mackerel, anchovies and sardines. Do you think it is the correct choice?
Yes – the food choices are entirely appropriate for this species of penguin.