12 February 2011

Penguin lost in the big city gets police protection

PERU - Parents often advise their children that if they get lost, they should find a police officer. And that's what a young Humboldt penguin lost in Lima did. Or rather, the police found him, then looked after him until he could be returned to his natural habitat.

The penguin, nicknamed Tomas after the cook at the police headquarters (because they walk with the same gait), must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. He ended up in Peru's capital city on Agua Dulce beach, miles from his home on one of Lima's offshore islands.

Tomas was rescued by police lifeguards and taken to the local police station, where he was examined by a veterinarian. He became quite a celebrity, with beachgoers and police alike keen to get their photo taken with him.

In the Reuters video Tomas appears almost tame, keeping calm while people hold him and during his veterinary examination. Somewhat worryingly, it is this "good temperament", the veterinarian who examined Tomas told Reuters, which means that when someone finds a Humboldt penguin they want to take it home. Indeed one of the threats to these birds, which are classified as "vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List, is that they are sought after as pets; another is that they are poached for their meat.

Luckily for Tomas his destiny does not lie in a Peruvian household - either as a pet or on the dinner table - but back in his natural habit. His police rescuers took him on a three-hour boat ride to a penguin colony on San Lorenzo island, where he was released into the ocean and hopefully fulfilled the veterinarian's prediction that he would rejoin his community without any problems.

Photographer Mariana Bazo accompanied Tomas on his journey home and felt "privileged" by the experience. On Reuters Photographers Blog she said, "As a photographer one always has the chance to be a front row observer of others' lives, be close to celebrities and presidents. This time I was deeply touched by someone very important - Tomas the penguin."

One can only speculate about what Tomas himself thought of his brief time within the long - but in this case, caring - arm of the law.

A penguin's trip home by Mariana Bazo, 8 February 2011, Reuters
Humboldt penguin Tomas returned to wild by lifeguards by Rich Shulman, 26 January 2011, msnbc.com (includes Reuters photos by Mariana Bazo and Today Show video)
Penguin taken into police custody by Gemma Haines, 26 January 2011, Reuters (video)

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