Donald, Daisy, Popeye and Olive are set for their public debut in Mumbai on Saturday – not on a film screen along with the Beauty and the Beast but at the city zoo.
The four, named after popular cartoon characters, are among seven Humboldt penguins that the Mumbai zoo acquired from South Korea in July. After spending eight months acclimatising to the city’s climate, the penguins will now finally be showcased to the public in an a specially designed enclosure. The enclosure was earlier to open last year.
What’s in a name
Come Saturday, however, the zoo is anticipating large crowds. The penguins’ names are likely to be as much of an attraction as the two-foot tall birds themselves. Besides Donald, Daisy, Popeye and Olive, there are also Flipper, Bubble and Mr Molt.
Animals in India’s zoos are typically given distinctly Indian and typically human names. The Delhi zoo, for instance, has tigers called Tipu, Kalpana, Meeta and Neeta, a leopard named Salman and elephants called Heera and Rajalakshmi. The giraffes in Mysore’s zoo are called Kushi, Bheema and Lakshmi, and in 2015, the late Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa christened tiger cubs in Chennai’s zoo Anitha, Suneetha, Preetha and Sangeetha. Meanwhile, a rhinoceros called Ayodhya was moved from Patna to Delhi last year.
In comparison, the names of Mumbai’s new penguins are less valiant and more reminiscent of cuddly pets.
“I love Disney, so these names just popped into my head,” said Madhumita Kale, the veterinarian and caregiver. She said she named Donald and Daisy and Popeye and Olive in pairs, as they seemed to have picked each other as companions.
Mr Molt, said Kale, was named for the process of molting or feather-shedding that penguins go through every year. “He was molting when he arrived.” Kale described Mr Molt’s playmate, Bubble, as a happy and friendly penguin.
Flipper has not paired up with any other penguin yet. An eighth penguin, Dory, that was brought to Mumbai last year died of a bacterial infection in November.
Zoo exchanges always hard
The acquisition of eight penguins for the Mumbai zoo had been controversial ever since the city’s civic corporation announced the plan in June. Humboldt penguins originally belong to the colder climes of Peru and Chile and the Mumbai zoo spent more than Rs 24 crore to transport the birds from their aquarium in South Korea to a temperature-controlled, quarantine enclosure in the city. Besides, the species is listed as “vulnerable” by the IUCN.
Wildlife activists have been protesting the displacement of the penguins from their natural environment to a tropical city.
Moreover, given the water-scarcity and pressing civic issues in Mumbai, this was considered a wasteful expenditure.
Having to acclimatise to a new environment is not the only problem the transfer of animals from one zoo to another. Even within India, zoo exchanges and the long journeys associated with them have proven stressful and even fatal for animals.
In September, five-year-old white tiger Rama was moved from South Chennai’s Arignar Anna Zoological Park to the Sajjangarh Biological Park in Udaipur. Rama did not eat for two out of four days that it took to complete the 2,000-km journey, because of the stress and fatigue.
In 2015, the Chennai zoo exchanged two ostriches with two king cobras from the Dr Shivarama Karanth Biological Park in Mangalore. In less than a year, one of the king cobras died of dysecdysis, an infectious disease causing the abnormal shedding of a reptile’s outer skin. Unlike Mangalore, Chennai is hot and humid for most of the year. The zoo had attempted to create a naturally cool environment for the cobra, but the snake did not survive.