Mumbai: The death of a penguin at a Mumbai zoo has translated into a political row with the opposition Congress alleging corruption in a complaint to the Lokayukta or anti-corruption watchdog.
The party has alleged that a blacklisted contractor was given the work of constructing an enclosure for the penguins, which cannot survive the Mumbai heat.
Dory, an 18-month-old Humboldt penguin, died about a week ago at the Byculla zoo in Mumbai, reportedly of a bacterial infection. She was one of the eight penguins brought in from South Korea in July at the cost of two crores.
Her death has raised questions over the survival of the other penguins amid fears that the climate in the subcontinent is alien to these animals.
In its petition to the Lokayukta, the Congress has alleged that the penguin project worth Rs 50 crore was a scam by the Shiv Sena and BJP run civic body BMC or Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.
"We want the Lokayukta to probe this, there are irregularities in contracts. These penguins should be sent back," said Praveen Cheda, the Leader of Opposition in the civic body.
Zoo director Dr. Sanjay Tripathi says that Air Conditioners and chillers are being used to keep the penguins cool for now.
"First of all the requirement of Humboldt penguins are a little different from other penguin species, their temperature requirement is five degree and 25 degree and in captivity they are kept between 12 degree to 20 degree and we are keeping them in 16 to 18 degrees," said Mr Tripathi.
Wildlife activists like the Humane Society International say the import of the penguins violates India's commitment to the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, which restricts the trade of a vulnerable species like the Humboldt penguins. In a letter to the Central Zoo Authority, the Humane Society International (HIS) has urged the agency to launch an investigation into the case and disallow the BMC from further imports of the penguin and ensuring the safe return of the 7 penguins to their natural habitat." Acknowledging the letter the Central Zoo authority has written to the BMC Commissioner asking him to address the issues raised by the HSI.
"According to the rules these animals are vulnerable and can only be traded for educational purposes, I don't see how people coming to the zoo will benefit from it educationally," said N G Jayasimha, Managing Director, HIS.
Mumbai's civic body BMC has forfeited the Rs 1.40 crore deposit of the contractor responsible for the penguin enclosure.