A penguin is a man’s best friend.
This is true for João Pereira de Souza, a 71-year-old bricklayer and fisherman from a small fishing village off the coast of Rio de Janeiro.
A Magellanic penguin swims thousands of miles every year to meet him, and not only that, it lives with João for months on end at his beachside house on the Ilha Grande island, reports the Independent.
The little penguin’s natural habitat could be anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 miles away. Magellanic penguins breed on the coasts of Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands, with some of them migrating to Brazil occasionally, as has happened in the present case.
Whenever João and the penguin Jinjing are together, they go for long walks on the beach and swim in the sea.
Jinjing has neatly divided its time between its natural habitat and its adopted home. From February to May, the penguin disappears into the sea, spending time in its habitat, and from June onwards, it is back with João, spending the rest of the year with him. The penguin’s return every year is a highly charged, dramatic moment, as João described it to Wall Street Journal last year.
“When he returns he’s so happy to see me. He comes up to my neck and hoots.”
Jinjing and João met for the first time in 2011.
João found the penguin stranded on the beach one day, covered in oil, in a pretty bad shape. He took it home, cleaned the oil off its body in the shower, and force-fed it sardines. Once the bird seemed okay, João took it back to the sea. The penguin refused to leave and came right back to João.
They have been together since, more or less, barring the penguin’s visits to its habitat for a few months every year.
Although human-animal and human-bird friendships are a common enough occurrence all over the world, a human-penguin bond is a rarity. And this particular human-penguin bond is much more unique because of its intensity.
Jinjing is possessive about João. It doesn’t appreciate other presences around its human friend. It is known to react aggressively if anybody gets too close to João.
“He doesn’t let any dog or cat near me or else he goes after them and pecks,” João told WSJ.
Jinjing is also very particular about touch. Nobody except João is allowed to touch it. If anybody else touches it by mistake, the penguin pecks them. And João is the only one permitted to handle it, bathe it, and feed it sardines. João doesn’t mind it at all and believes the penguin loves him.
Experts in penguin behavior, however, have other ideas. Since the penguin visits João during the breeding season, it has been speculated that the penguin’s brain may have gotten muddled somehow and it had begun seeing João as more than a friend.
Biologist Joao Paulo Krajewski told the Independent, “I think the penguin believes João is part of his family and probably a penguin as well.”
Veterinary nurse and penguin expert Dyan deNapoli goes a step further, telling WSJ, “It’s possible that he has redirected his natural instinct to mate toward this guy [João].”
Or, keeping the analysis aside for a moment, it could just be good old friendship, a simple case of two friends brought together by fate.
Another, more earthly factor that may have brought the two together is climate change. Although it’s normal for some Magellanic penguins to come as far as Brazil in search of food, there has been a steady increase in their numbers over the years.
This is how Professor David Zee, an oceanographer from Rio de Janeiro’s State University, explained it.
“Every year the strong ocean currents from the Falkland region trap and bring many species of seals, whales, dolphins, turtles and penguins to the Brazilian coast. This is becoming more problematic due to environmental changes and the increasing frequency of el Niño, in which the Pacific Ocean is warming up for prolonged periods of time. The marine creatures get confused and lost as they are dragged away on the surf from their normal habitat and end up in areas where they are unable to survive.”
Thanks to João, Jinjing has managed to survive quite well. Although it’s illegal to keep wild animals as pets in Brazil, the authorities have let João keep the penguin because of João’s “kindness.”
The penguin’s love has turned João into a local celebrity of sorts, brightening up his twilight years like anything.
[Image via YouTube/Wall Street Journal]