Monday, August 15, 2016

Religious month affecting fish diet for penguins in Mumbai zoo reveals poor planning


Shraavana is the fifth month of the Hindu calendar which begins in late July and continues till the third week of August. For many Hindus, it is the month of fasting. Many people also avoid non-vegetarian food during Shraavana.

In Mumbai, this year's Shraavana would have been like any other if eight Humboldt penguins were not involved.

Eight Humboldt penguins were brought to the Byculla zoo. News18
Eight Humboldt penguins were brought to the Byculla zoo. News18

In July, eight Humboldt penguins had been brought to the Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan — better known as the Byculla Zoo.

Penguins almost exclusively live in the Antarctic. They are also carnivores. Although their main diet is fish, they also eat krill and squid. They are also found on every continent in the southern hemisphere, abundant on many temperate and sub-antarctic island.

According to this report in The Times of India, the variety of fish in the market has become limited due to the month of Shraavana.

The report also said that the penguins were being fed fish like smelt, Bombay Duck and eel till now, adding that the appetite of the penguins had increased since they had been brought to the Byculla zoo in Mumbai. Earlier, each of the penguins would eat around 200-300 gm of fish per day but now, every penguin was eating 500 gm per day.

This points out an important and disturbing fact: If something like a religious festival meant for human beings can affect the diet of eight penguins with a growing appetite in a tropical country known for its hot and humid climate, it shows the poor quality of planning involved in their maintenance.

The report does, however, also say that the penguins have been doing well till now as one of the birds began molting its feathers, which is a good sign.

But whether their good health will continue for the rest of the month of Shraavana is questionable.
Add to this situation the Byculla Zoo's poor mortality record and the scepticism becomes even more substantial.

"Thirty-nine mammals, 22 birds and 10 reptiles died at the zoo in 2010-11. In the following two years, the total number of deaths were 34 and 63. Up to August 2014, the number of mammals and reptiles at the zoo have remained the same since 2012-13 at 147 and 32 respectively, but around 61 birds have died in the first six months itself," stated a 2014 Indian Express report.

The report also said that the Byculla Zoo has the worst mortality rate (12.1 percent) among all the zoos in the country.

The least that is expected of a zoo which is now home to eight penguins is that it is ready with a good supply of fish for the penguins which is not affected by the changing supply in the local markets due to religious festivals.

The fact that maintenance in a zoo can be affected by religion is quite scary and poses the question of whether the penguins should have been brought to the zoo at all. After all, if you will let mere festivals affect the very lives of animals in a place where you are supposed to take care of them, why bring those animals under your care in the first place?

Activist Anand Siva had earlier criticised the decision to bring the penguins to Mumbai and had suspected a political angle behind this decision. "Aaditya (Thackeray) has been trying to show the (Shiv) Sena, known for its hard-line image, in a different light by taking up issues such as reviving the Mumbai night life and revamping Byculla zoo. The penguins have arrived just in time to boost the Sena's confidence ahead of the 2017 municipal polls," he had said in a Facebook post.


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