Two penguins were rescued by a Brazilian animal shelter this week after they washed up unexpectedly at one of Rio de Janeiro’s most popular beaches and got taken into a nearby favela.
Pa and Gode — as the penguins are now called — were discovered washed up on Rio’s Sao Conrado beach on Monday, according to local media accounts. The sub-Antarctic birds were found 3,000 miles away from their home, in Argentina’s Patagonia region,.
The birds were taken in by a family living in the nearby Rocinha favela, after the eight-year-old daughter insisted on adopting them.
According to local daily Estadao, the family tried to feed the magellanic penguins sardines, but the birds refused to eat. So they called a local animal shelter and asked what penguins eat.
“At first I thought it was a joke,” said Paulo Maia, of the rescue shelter SOS Aves, in an interview with Estadao.
But the animal expert went to visit the family’s home to check out the situation. He reportedly found the penguins “sitting on the couch in front of the TV.” That's when he arranged to have them transferred to his shelter, on the outskirts of Rio.
“If you find penguins on the beach, please don’t take them home, get in touch with us so we can rescue them,” Maia said on Wednesday in a public service announcement broadcast on Brazilian radio station CBN. “Penguins are not a game…they need to be medicated and treated so that we can return them to their natural habitat.”
During the winter months in the southern hemisphere Magellanic penguins migrate from the Patagonia to southern Brazil in search of food and warmer waters. Usually they make it no farther than Rio Grande do Sul, a state 1,000 miles south of Rio.
Scientists suspect that shifting ocean currents and dwindling fish populations have forced some penguins to head further north in search of food, which could explain their unlikely presence in Rio de Janeiro and other tropical spots.
Rio now gets a few dozen stray penguins each year. In mid 2008 local environmental groups went on alert after hundreds of penguins washed up in Rio and other states to the north.
Scientists warn that the birds will likely continue to arrive in Rio if human activity continues to deplete fish stocks and climate change affects ocean currents.
Maia's final word of advice to anyone who happens across more lost penguins: “These animals are exhausted, there’s no need to put them in a fridge.”
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.