Endangered Humboldt Penguins will be stars at Mumbai zoo (Lead, with Images)

Mumbai, July 26 (IANS) A tiny colony of the endangered Humboldt Penguins, including three males, three females and two female babies, arrived at Mumbai Zoo from an aquarium in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, an official said.

This will be first time that penguins will be exhibited in any Indian zoo. The flightless birds belong to the South American species found in the cold coasts of Chile and Peru.

Owing to a steep decline in their population, the Humboldt Penguins are listed since 2000 as “vulnerable” in the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Switzerland.

Mumbai zoo – known as Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan — has acquired them from a Seoul tourist attraction, Coex Aquarium, for around Rs 2 crore, as part of its ambitious Rs 2.50 crore modernisation plan, said an official.

After arriving on a flight, the birds were shifted to a refrigerated van and reached Mumbai zoo around 5 a.m. on Tuesday, accompanied by a special caretaker.

The baby penguins, standing around 12-15 cm tall and weighing one to 2.5 kg, will grow up to 65-70 cm. The birds have a life span of up to 25 years.

The Humboldts are black-and-white penguins with a black head and white border running from the eyes around the ears and chins and joining at the throat, blackish-grey upper parts, whitish underparts with black breast-bands extending to the thighs, and a fleshy-pink base to the bill.

They will remain quarantined in a special enclosure for at least the next 90 days to acclimatize them to Indian conditions and the change of location.

These penguins can withstand temperatures of between 4-24 degrees C and the quarantine areas will provide this controlled air-conditioned temperature range for the next three months, without any outsider contact barring the caretaker.

They are likely to be placed as the Mumbai Zoo’s star exhibits by November after their acclimatization spell is over.

The BMC is preparing a special 1,700 sq ft air-conditioned enclosure with an average 16-17 degrees C and a 6,000-8,000 litre water pool as the permanent residence for these birds. They will be given around eight kg of certain fish varieties daily.

Presently, Humboldt Penguins are on exhibit in around 100 select zoos worldwide.

Plans to acquire and exhibit penguins here was announced by the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party led civic body after the 2012 BMC elections, and have materialised just before the upcoming civic polls in early 2017.

The penguin project has been personally monitored by top civic officials and Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray.

–IANS

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