Blind penguins enjoy lives of ease, plenty at Chilean shelter

By Maria M.Mur

Santiago, Jun 9 (EFE).- Skipper basks in the sun and Grande takes a leisurely bath while Kowalski begins to flap his wings energetically when he realizes that a keeper is bringing in a bucket full of sardines and anchovies.

They are three of the eight blind Humboldt penguins who have found a home at a shelter on the outskirts of Santiago.

All eight were found on beaches after being expelled from the nest by their progenitors.

“A healthy penguin just out of the nest weighs more than 4 kilos (8.8 lbs), but the blind exemplars that reach us weigh barely a kilo-and-a-half. They don’t know how to fish, they are truly starvelings, with dry feathers and nearly unable to open their little eyes,” shelter director Isabel Hernandez told Efe.

The Mexican veterinarian and president of the Mundomar Foundation receives the penguins from Chile’s Sernapesca marine life service.

In contrast with other rescue and rehabilitation operations, Hernandez’s efforts are not directed toward returning her charges to the wild.

The blind penguins “are completely incapable of functioning in the natural environment. They cannot be released and must be maintained for life in rehabilitation centers,” Sernapesca’s Gerardo Cerda told Efe.

Grande arrived at the shelter in 2015. Skipper and Kowalski showed up in March and are still becoming accustomed to their new home, which is built to hold as many as 20 penguins.

The facility is equipped with a large salt-water pool.

“It’s incredible how they move here,” Hernandez said. “They sit on the edge of the pool without falling and are able to get out of the water unaided.”

Mundomar is working with experts from the University of Chile and the Catholic University of the North to discover what causes the blindness and whether the afflicted birds are born blind or lose their sight after hatching.

One thing they have been able to confirm is that the condition affects only the Humboldts, one of the world’s 17 species of penguins.

Chile accounts for 80 percent of the population of Humboldt penguins, who are native to the cold water current named after explorer and scientist Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859).

The Humboldt Current extends from Peru’s Isla La Foca to Isla Puñihuil in Chile.

In 2013, the International Union for Conservation of Nature added the Humboldt penguin to its Red List of endangered species, citing pressure from human encroachment, a reduction in food supply and the impact of climate phenomena such as El Niño.

“If Chile doesn’t get down to work, this species will disappear in a few years,” Hernandez said. EFE


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