SAVE PENGUINS… NOW!
I was 5 years old when I first saw a penguin during a visit to Australia. Though now I possess just vague memories of that trip, I do remember that it were the penguins that had captivated my attention more that any other creature at one of the zoos there.
And there was an exotic variety of them. There were alligators, crocodiles, serpents including pythons, apes, parrots of various hues, pandas and of course, the kangaroos.
I watched the penguins in their countershaded dark and white plumage, flapping their wings, helping themselves on a spread of krill, fish and squid. I was enthused as I saw a little one catch a fish while swimming underwater.Maybe my fondness for animation played its part, as I find penguins most real-life cartoon characters. I mean... they are almost cartoon if they are’nt real.
Fascination for penguins came with its perils too. I remember labouring in vain, when confronted with an Art assignment of drawing my favourite animal when I was in third standard. Not that my artistic skills are anything to boast about, but I am sure I would have scored higher had my favourite animal been a butterfly!
As I grew up, the space occupied by penguins in my mind began diminishing.
It was only the other day while surfing the net that I came across an article that said that of the total 12 species of Penguins in the world, 11 are facing extinction!
Hardly surprising! Well is someone as ferocious as a tiger can’t do much about extinction, what chance does a penguin have, I thought.
Nothing to do, and by nothing, I mean absolutely nothing… I ‘googled’ for more information on penguins. How I wish I hadn’t…coz the results weren’t entirely pleasing. As with most living things, penguins too are doomed due to humans.Penguins are dying because of pollution, over-fishing, coastal development, and climate changes, I read.
Of the 11 species that are facing extinction, one of them are the Galapagos penguins. There are only a few thousand Galapagos penguins left because activities of El Niño (El Niño-Southern Oscillation or ENSO, also referred to as El Niño, is a global coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon) depleted the fish they eat.
On researching further, I found out that the specie of penguin which had so endeared itself to me were called Fiordland penguins, native of southern parts of Australia. They standout due to their yellow eyes. Only a few thousands of those gentle creatures were left.
Penguins are found in the southern hemisphere. They live in Antarctica and off the coasts of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and South America, with some as far north as the Galapagos Islands, which are part of Ecuador.
While scanning the archives for news reports on penguins, I stumbled on to a report by Usha Lee McFarling of the Knight Rider Newspapers. It was dated to December 6, 1998. It revealed that close to 40,000 penguins are killed each year by oil spills off the coast of Argentina.
Pollution in the ocean, is yet another bane of the penguins as it reduces there ability to reproduce. To make matters worse, in New Zealand and Australia, vulnerable penguins provide a soft target to predators such as cats, dogs, and ferrets.
My curiosity aroused, I decided that I need to know about the `natural lifestyle` of a penguin before I can think of any solutions for preserving them.“The penguins have limited territory and rely on fishing near their nests. They depend on specific fish such as anchovies and sardines. Human fishing competes with the Penguins and can eliminate their food supply. Flying birds can hunt in a wider territory, and some such as sea gulls can adapt to other types of food, but penguins must eat the local fish. In some places, the human fishing industry also directly kills the penguins. They get snared in nets, and are even deliberately killed and their meat used as bait.” Hardly inspiring!
Apparently the penguins aren’t even allowed to ‘poop’ in peace.
“In Peru, the guano (droppings from penguins) is harvested as a resource,” I was informed. And this can harm the penguins, since they burrow into guano piles to hide from seals.
Another danger that penguins face is the exploitation they have to undergo from humans for tourism purposes.
Live penguins can be an economic resource, since they attract tourists. However tourists usually tend to be careless and often step on the eggs and interrupt breeding. Tour boats again pose the danger of oil spills.
These forces that threaten the penguins, also impact the environment adversely.
The challenge of offsetting the losses suffered already is immense, but not impossible. And unfortunately, even as time is running out, preserving the environment in general, and penguins in particular, continues to escape the priority lists of governments worldwide.
It is not that we need rocket science solutions to our problems. For starters, tour boats and ships should not be allowed to operate unless they have insurance or other funds to pay for any oil spills.
Again, even as the greater problem of global pollution requires an international agreement to make all polluters pay for their damage, what remains to be seen is whether there is a will.
A pollution charge would kill two birds with one stone.
Firstly, the pollution charges, if passed on to the consumers of the products, would restrict the quantity of purchase owing to a higher price. Secondly, the charges could be used to pay for monitoring the wildlife to enforce the payments.
While killing penguins and other endangered wildlife should be penalized, it should be ensured that penalties are not only monetary.It would also help if the environmental groups can educate themselves on the economics of conservation.
Afterall, affecting human action through the market by making consumers and producers pay the price of their damage to environment maybe the solution to restricting environmental damage.
The spirit of human resilience can never be underestimated.
It is not only the penguins that suffer extinction at this point of time. Like them, many other innocent creatures are being pushed into the mouth of death due to inhuman actions by us human beings.
It is high time that the nature is protected, and so are these naïve creatures. Small steps and precautions taken by us might give a bright future to these animals and they wouldn’t have to fight for their existence.