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Homeless: lost penguins stranded on Brazilian beaches get lift home from air force


By WcP.Story.Teller - Posted on 05 October 2008

Brazilian coast guard officer rescues a penguin in Cabo Frio, about 90 miles from Rio

(quote)

In between the bronzed bodies in skimpy thongs soaking up the rays on Copacabana beach, a tiny black and white bundle of feathers struggles to emerge from the surf. Exhausted and emaciated, its bones poking through the blubber, the young penguin finally collapses on the sand. It has strayed thousands of miles from home, one of more than 1,000 penguins to have washed up on the Brazilian coast this year, some of which have died along the way.

They have come ashore further north than ever before, with some making landfall just 400 miles from the Equator. Brazilian coastguards have found themselves acting as penguin first-aiders, protecting them from an over-enthusiastic public whose first instinct is often to stick the birds in an ice bucket. Hundreds of penguins have been returned to their native territory in the south Atlantic ocean by an air force plane after being found along Brazil's coast.

two of the more than 1,000 penguins that have washed ashore. Many have died

Every year penguins make their way north from the colder waters near to Patagonia in search of food. But the numbers and distances the penguins have traveled this year have amazed the authorities. Some are thought to have made a journey of more than 3,000km (1,860 miles) from the cold waters of Patagonia on the southern tip of South America. Earlier this year the first reports of large numbers of penguins being found came in from southern Brazilian states such as Rio de Janeiro. Now they are even being discovered in the far north of the country.

Some experts have said that penguin migration is closely linked to their need for food, and that the unusual journey the penguins are making suggests something has gone wrong with their normal fish supply. Experts say it is not clear whether this is due to changes in water temperatures and ocean currents or man-made pollution. Some of the birds were found covered in oil, while there has also been evidence that others were eating fish that are not part of their usual diet. Other experts have suggested that melting ice in Antarctica has strengthened the Malvinas Current, which has then spirited away the younger, weaker and more vulnerable penguins.

Valeria Ruoppolo (IFAW): ‘It's normal for them to migrate north, but this year they just kept on going’

Of the 1,000-plus penguins that have been recovered on land, about a fifth have died of starvation, exhaustion and other illnesses, and experts reckon they are just a fraction of the number of penguins that have perished out at sea. Brazilian zoos have been inundated with the surviving birds, some of whom who have lost three-quarters of their body weight; are wracked with parasites and diarrhoea; sporting broken flippers, and severely malnourished. By 21 September, Niteroi zoo had received 556 penguins, compared with just seven in the whole of 2007.

It is an annual task for the Brazilian air force to help return penguins to their native territory but it seems this year they are coping with higher numbers of their unusual passengers. Hundreds of penguins were flown this week in a Hercules plane down to the southern tip of Brazil, where they are being released into the ocean - while some are to return on a navy vessel. Other birds that were exhausted by their long journey are for the time being staying behind to enjoy the hospitable climate of Bahia - a Brazilian state known for its beautiful beaches and sunny weather. Claudinha, Queridinho, Pity, Predileto, Tutuca, Colhidora and Smarty have been taken under the wing of a retired photographer, Cecilia Breves. "I was very happy when I had one or two, because they are so cute. They'd follow me around everywhere," the 57-year-old told the Washington Post. "It's much harder when there are eight of them."

(unquote)

Photos courtesy of Ricardo Moraes / AP, Fred P. Alves / Washington Post, and Getty Images

Original Source: The Independent, UK and BBC News

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