In May 2011, Joao Pereira de Souza stumbled upon a stranded Magellanic penguin outside his shack on Proveta Beach in Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro. The bird was soaked in oil and unable to move. The 71-year-old retired bricklayer scooped up the starving penguin, nursed it back to health, and put it out to sea.
However, instead of swimming away, the penguin waddled right back to De Souza's backyard that same afternoon, where he settled down for the next 11 months. In February 2012, the animal that was nicknamed "Dindim," because Joao's two-year-old grandson had a hard time pronouncing "pinguim," (Portuguese for penguin), upped and left.
Believing that was the last time he would see the penguin, De Souza returned to his regular daily routine. Hence, you can only imagine the Brazilian man's surprise when he heard Dindim's familiar squeak coming from his backyard in June. Similar to the previous time, the bird stayed until February, before taking off again. Since then, Dindim has been "migrating" to De Souza's home, every year.
Scientists aren’t sure where Dindim disappears to from February to June. They believe that similar to other Magellanic penguins, he spends the months feeding at sea. Then, when the rest of the penguins head south to the warmer waters near Patagonia to molt and breed, Dindim comes home to visit his best friend. Upon encountering De Souza, the penguin shows his excitement by wagging his tail like a dog and honking with joy!
De Souza is just as enthusiastic about his unusual pal. In a recent interview with Globo TV, the Brazilian man said, "I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me. No one else is allowed to touch him. He pecks them if they do. He lays on my lap, lets me give him showers, allows me to feed him sardines and to pick him up." Not surprisingly, the unconditional love between the two has touched the hearts of millions of people and transformed the special couple into international celebrities.
Biologist João Paulo Krajewski, who met with De Souza, says he has never encountered a friendship like this before. He speculates that the now six-year-old Dindim believes that Joao is part of his family and probably a penguin as well!
Magellanic penguins are medium-sized penguins that are endemic to South America. They travel in large colonies when searching for food. During breeding season, they flock to nesting colonies located along the coasts of Argentina, Southern Chile, and the Falkland Islands.
While there are millions of specimens still alive, the penguins are on the list of near threatened endangered species. That's because oil spills near the penguin's breeding colonies result in the deaths of thousands of adults and juveniles each year. Thankfully, conservationists are doing everything they can to prevent further loss by instituting protective measures around the penguin's largest breeding colonies.
Resources: cnn.com, www.jpkrajewski.com, telegraph.co.uk