Unhappy feet

Aug 27, 2018, 05:54 IST | Fiona Fernandez

Death of the baby Humboldt penguin adds to the laundry list of unpleasant reminders about city's lack of sensitivity towards its flora & fauna

Unhappy feet
The nestling died due to congenital defects, authorities said

Fiona FernandezIt was one of those rare Sundays when this suburbanite decided to trek to SoBo at an hour that is otherwise reserved for chai and a leisurely morning read. All because yours truly was happy to play guide to a 10-year-old NRI who was keen to know more about his parents' hometown.

"He's a chilled out kid," reminded the friend; "he'll sail along with your plans," she assured about her impressionable son who was on his second visit here. After landmarks like CST, BMC, the Oval Maidan and its majestic sprawl of Victorian Gothic and Art Deco sites were ticked off the list, we headed to the CSMVS museum. It was still early for the holiday rush to trickle in, and so, we were lucky to soak it all in with minimum chaos.

A heartbroken city
Soon, we arrived at the Natural History section. It had been years since we had dropped by. Yet, the displays wowed us all over again. As for our little friend, he was awed with the show reel of tropical animals, birds and sea life that is unseen in his part of the world — Canada. From the king cobra to the leopard and one-horned rhino, the exhibits blew his mind, to put it mildly.

"Why are so many of them marked as 'threatened' or 'endangered'?" he asked. We managed a mishmash of a reply, citing increasing population and the resultant loss of natural habitat. It wasn't enough, and we had to explain this fallout in greater detail for the next five minutes. Just then, we heard a statement uttered by a bunch of teens nearby, "Arre, next, we'll see those poor penguins on display as well."

It reminded us of the sad news that had hit the city a few days earlier. The week-old baby Humboldt penguin had passed away inside its enclosure at the Byculla zoo. I was hoping that my little companion had missed the comment. Thankfully, he had.

That moment had left a bad taste in the mouth. When the news broke, many concerned folk took to social media to vent — "It's like keeping an Alaskan Husky as a pet in humid Mumbai. It's a crime!" or "Want to see penguins? Watch Happy Feet." Some of the country's most notable conservationists and animal welfare experts were upset and angry that their prediction had come true — that these creatures meant for cooler climes had to be subject to an artificial environment in the name of 'entertainment'. "How many others need to die for the authorities running this show to realise that this doesn't work for the city?" they thundered in a collective voice. Yet, the show seems to go on.

Fauna under threat
It's common knowledge that Mumbai's zoo needs a revised blueprint. Or better still, the place should return to its original idea — that of a green park, on the lines of Hyde or Central Park.

The aquarium is another plot gone wrong. Our national park is under threat, as is its tree cover and mangroves, even as we write this column. With an ever-rising population, more cars on our roads and a bleeding infrastructure, what chance do those penguins have for survival, we wonder. Probably none.

The rest of our trail was a breeze, and the little friend seemed happy with a Sunday morning well spent. On our return, amidst several queries about the city, he asked, "Doesn't Mumbai have a zoo? I'd like to see some real animals after those cool displays at the museum." Ouch. "Err, it's better we don't," I replied, feebly. Just then, we spotted a mammoth Ganesha idol make its way to a pandal. It worked as a timely distraction as the elephant god played saviour in an unexpected way.

The sorry state of affairs might eventually lead to a day when we will have to resort to the natural history section of museums to show kids what our fauna once looked like.

mid-day's Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city's sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana
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