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Saving Patagonia’s Penguins

By Lavanya Sunkara
May 26, 2011
File under: Animal Protection, Conservation, Endangered Species, Wildlife


On a cloudy spring Saturday morning on April 30th, I joined friends and 6600 fellow animals lovers at the Bronx Zoo Run for the Wild in New York City. It was the third annual 5k Run/Walk fundraiser organized by Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) at the zoo.

The money raised this year will go towards Magellanic penguin conservation efforts led by Dr. Dee Boersma in Punta Tombo on Argentina’s Patagonian coast.  Scores of people from all boroughs and nearby states gathered to show their support for the endangered penguins.

Children sporting penguin costumes, adults with cute black and white hats, cheerful youngsters, parents with strollers, and exercisers of all ages filled the zigzagging roads of the zoo.

While serious runners took off early, walkers leisurely moved towards the finish line taking pictures of exotic birds, baboons and bison. Afterwards, everyone celebrated the event’s success with music, zumba dancing and food, and took away freebies from sponsoring companies and memories from a day spent for a good cause.

As enjoyable as the day was, the reality for penguins is not quite rosy. As many have seen in March of the Penguins, these loving creatures work diligently for food and to raise and protect their offspring.  Their struggle for survival against the harsh elements is inspiring. But today, they are facing issues they cannot tackle alone. Punta Tombo, where WCS oversees conservation efforts, is home to nearly 500,000 penguins, but there used to be a lot more.

The population of these seabirds has dropped 21% in the past 20 years. Oil pollution from tankers, commercial fishing that depletes their food sources, and climate change are key contributors to the dwindling numbers. Oil pollution alone is responsible for the deaths of more than 40,000 penguins in Argentina each year in the 1980s.

Recently, disturbing news emerged about penguin chicks losing their feathers and some even dying as a result of the mysterious problem. More studies are needed to find the root cause.

In a video taken at the event (see below), Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at WCS, John F. Calvelli, shares that everyone who participated in the run/walk made a difference for the waddlers.

The money raised will go towards advancing scientific research, protecting breeding sites and managing penguin populations. In the clip, you will also meet Aghelos Kouvaras, a six-year-old cancer survivor and a lover of penguins.

When he was recovering in the hospital, he told his mom that he wanted to help save penguins because they were dying. At the time his family thought his survival would be a miracle. Six months later, healthy and smiling, he cut the ribbon at the start of the race. Thanks to his spirit (and his team of 80 that raised $8000), and thousands of others’ efforts and contributions, the penguins of Patagonia might just have a better shot at survival.

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