A Problematic Passage to India

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Animal welfare activists are alarmed by Mumbai zoo’s plan to import six penguins from Thailand
Come December, if everything goes according to plan, Jijamata Udyan, Mumbai’s zoo, will get India’s first batch of penguins. The municipal body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), has just set aside Rs 21.40 crore for the purchase and upkeep of three pairs of male and female penguins from Thailand. Zoo authorities hope that these will breed more penguins. Animal welfare organisations are, however, aghast at the news. They believe that the logistics of caring for the penguins, from providing the right food to creating an appropriate environment, will be disastrous.

“How can birds from the cold south survive in Mumbai?” asks Sunish Subramanian Kunju, president of the Plant & Animals Welfare Society. Kunju is busy preparing a report on the dismal conditions of the zoo for the Central Zoo Authority, asking it to stop the acquisition of the penguins. “The mortality rate in the zoo is extremely high. The enclosures are small. One hippopotamus currently has a long-festering wound that attracts crows. A crocodile and a sambar deer are kept in the same enclosure. There are so many issues that need rectification,” he says.

JC Khanna, secretary of the Bombay Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, also thinks it is a faulty idea. “The country’s zoo policy states that zoos are to give priority to animals of their region. But the Mumbai zoo... is undermining the very purpose of zoos.”

But the zoo is going ahead. An official of Jijamata Udyan, who requests anonymity, claims they will build a large temperature-controlled glass enclosure. “We have done our homework. Humboldt penguins, with proper care, can survive the heat. Some officers from the zoo will go to Bangkok and Singapore zoos, where they will undergo training in feeding and taking care of penguins,” he says.