Penguin Swims 5,000 Miles Each Year to Visit the Man Who Rescued Him
Talk about gratitude.
How far would you swim to reunite with the person who saved your life? For one penguin who found himself in a sticky situation (literally), the answer is approximately 5,000 miles.
Have you heard about the Magellanic Penguin and retired bricklayer in Brazil who have struck up a unique friendship?
Joao Pereira de Souza lives in a fishing village just outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 2011 he found a tiny penguin lying on some rocks at his local beach. The creature was covered in oil and close to death.
Joao cleaned the penguin, nursed him back to health and named him Dindim. Joao tried releasing the penguin, presumably never to meet again, but Dindim wasn’t ready to leave just yet. Joao recalls, “He stayed with me for 11 months and then, just after he changed his coat with new feathers, he disappeared.”
But that was not the last time the two would meet. So the story goes, over the past five years, Dindim has spent many months of the year with Joao and some believe he spends the rest of the time breeding off the coast of Argentina and Chile.
Joao told Globo TV, “I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me.” Apparently, no one else is permitted to touch Dindim, besides Joao, of course. Dindim lets Joao give him showers, feed and pick him up.
See for yourself:
That’s quite a heartwarming story, eh?
According to Penguin World, the Magellanic Penguin is the only migratory, offshore-foraging species in its genus. Some move as far north as Peru and Brazil in winter. So a penguin hanging out at a Brazilian fishing village is not necessarily as wild and crazy as it may sound.
I wonder though; is having a human "bff" in any way a detriment to this wild penguin’s welfare?
We know that there are health and emotional benefits of human-animal interactions. But we also know that wild animals belong in the wild and when humans try to change that, tragedy happens.
Still, a recent study found that ecotourism—which some claim can be dangerous to animal species in general—“might be less harmful to larger birds than previously thought because larger animals are more likely to be able to tolerate human disturbance.” A key finding from the study: “Larger birds are more tolerant of humans than smaller birds.”
Daniel Blumstein, the study’s senior author and a member of the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability, explained, “This new finding flips previous recommendations about large-bodied species being more vulnerable to the presence of humans and shows that large-bodied species are more tolerant.” He added, “It is likely costly for animals to respond fearfully to people that are not harming them.”
Interesting indeed, but to get the full picture, you should read the complete study.
As for the heartwarming bond between Joao and Dindim, to further explore whether this relationship is in any way harmful to the penguin, I turned to International Bird Rescue, an organization that has pioneered oiled aquatic bird care.
There I connected with Barbara Callahan, International Bird Rescue’s Response Services Director, who had just left Brazil where she was working with their partner organization, Aiuká Consultoria em Soluções Ambientais. Callahan suggested I connect with the Projects Director of Aiuká, Valeria Ruoppolo, who has been following this case.
About the unusual human-penguin friendship, Ruoppolo told me, “There is no harm really, but that is excluding the fact that the animal is being fed while on shore and that is why it does not go away.”
Takes a bit of wind out of the friendship sail, but what do you expect? It’s hard for anyone to turn down free lunch.
In terms of where exactly the penguin goes when not with Joao, Ruoppolo believes the media thus far has gotten it wrong: “Once it decides to go, the animal clearly knows where it is going back to, but in my opinion it does not go back south to Argentina as I have seen all over the media.”
Her theory? “The penguin is generally away for four months and it probably feeds and swims around south and southeastern Brazil when it decides to go back to Mr. Joao.”
Well, you heard it here folks.
Here’s to friendship and mutual respect between humans and wildlife. To learn more about International Bird Rescue’s incredible work, click here.
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Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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