Mumbai: Oreo, the cotton-wooled male penguin born a year and a half ago at the city’s Veermata Jijabai Bhosale Udyan, or Byculla Zoo, is preparing for its lifetime union with a female named Bubble.
The Humboldt female penguin was brought in from Seoul with seven others in 2016 and caused quite a political stir over whether the expenditure of Rs 45 crore then was worth it. From November 2021 to August 2022, the zoo has earned Rs 17.22 lakh from ticket sales.
Oreo & Bubble
The zoo authorities have paired Oreo and Bubble in hopes of a lifelong marriage that is a unique characteristic of this aquatic flightless bird. Bubble is over five years older than Oreo but the age gap is not of great concern for this species. In fact, Bubble, who has been single from the beginning, has been looking after Oreo since its birth. They have since been playing and swimming together.
Humboldt penguins are a key attraction at the zoo and draw hundreds of visitors every weekend. They mate twice a year – from March to April and October to November – after the age of three. Though Oreo is still too young for that, zoo authorities feel pairing cannot be sudden with a limited number of birds and they need to be initiated gradually. The zoo also doesn’t want to promote incest within the small community as there is little information on long-time repercussions.
Oreo was born to penguins Donald and Daisy on May 1, 2021. It was reared by parents feeding every two to three hours in the initial months. Within months, it switched to eating fish like other adults.
Dr Madhumita Kale, who heads the penguin caregiving team at the zoo, said, “We don’t want siblings to become pairs, so we try and encourage others to be together by providing them with nesting material and keeping them in a separate room so they can comfortably form a pair.”
Three newborn chicks
In the meantime, the zoo is also delighting over its three newly named chicks – Flash, Bingo and Alexa. Flash (male) was born on April 2 this year, Alexa (female) was born on August 9, and Bingo (male) was born on April 26.
“The youngest, Alexa, is being fed specific vitamins like calcium, Omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E. All chicks are mostly fed oily fish like mackerel and sardines for more nutrition, while adults consume Bombay duck along with other fish,” said Dr Kale.
The veterinarian said the chicks are susceptible to fungal growth in their lungs and are at greater risk as Mumbai is a humid city, even though they live in a controlled environment. Dory, one of the initial Humboldt penguins, had died of bacterial infection.
Dr Kale said, “The humidity is controlled in the exhibit and kept between 50% and 60%, with birds administered with an antifungal course as soon as they weigh 1kg, while the adults are given that course every year during monsoon.”