Penguin enclosure at Mumbai zoo may miss inauguration deadline, as Congress demands probe

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's (BMC) plans of inaugurating the Humbolt penguin enclosure at the Byculla zoo has run into troubled waters, with the Congress insisting that an inquiry into accusations of documents being forged to procure the penguins be completed first.

According to a report in The Indian Express, Congress' Nitesh Rane met civic chief Ajoy Mehta and handed over a letter outlining his party's objections. Rane also threatened to disrupt the inauguration ceremony of the penguin enclosure if the BMC goes ahead without completing the probe. "In the contract, it has come to light that the contractor had submitted forged documents in securing the contract. BMC has also forfeited the security deposit of the contractor. While a complaint has been lodged with the Lokayukta, the civic administration is conducting an inquiry into the forged documents. So the enclosure should not opened in haste," Rane said.

Eight Humboldt penguins were brought to the Byculla zoo. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

Eight Humboldt penguins were brought to the Byculla zoo. Image courtesy: CNN-News18

The penguins were procured with much fanfare last year. Part of the zoo's ambitious Rs 440 crore makeover plan, this particular batch of birds was bought in from Thailand. But several critics had blasted the civic body for the plan, saying the flightless birds, which normally breed in colder climates, wouldn't be able to adjust to Mumbai's tropical weather.

To get around the weather equation, the BMC said it plans to build a temperature-controlled glass enclosure which will have water and sand-filled land halves. Maintaining the temperature at 22 degree Celsius, the water segment will have 400 fish belonging to 67 species. Special diet and care will be maintained for the aquatic birds.

Within three months of its arrival, however, one of the eight penguins died. The penguin, weighing around 3 kg, showed symptoms of dullness, inappetance (shunning food), greenish stools and laboured breathing on 18 October, 2016. The bird was subjected to various medical tests and attended by a veterinary doctor, but could not survive, the zoo officials said.

Moreover, this is not the first time the Byculla zoo's below average mortality rate has been questioned. According to a 2014 report in The Indian Express, "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." The report continues that Byculla zoo has the worst mortality rate (12.1 percent) among zoos in the country.