Preparing to swim northwards alongside Argentina’s coast, through the inhospitable waters of the South Atlantic Ocean, this Magellanic penguin will soon embark on an epic and potentially hazardous journey to the eastern shores of Brazil. But why? When you find out your heart will melt.
Traveling an eye-watering 2,500 miles to reach its destination, the small male penguin – named Dindim – won’t just have exhaustion to contend with. No, it will also have to watch out for killer whales and sharks looking for their next meal.
This isn’t the first time, however, that Dindim’s attempted the mammoth swim; he’s actually been doing it for the last five years in a row. Setting off from breeding grounds in Argentina or Chile, his destination is always the same: an island village not far from Rio de Janeiro.
But it’s not the village per se that Dindim’s interested in. On arrival in Brazil he immediately starts looking for someone very special to him. Fortunately, after such a long journey, the penguin’s search never takes very long.
Dindim’s soulmate, who’s been looking forward to the penguin’s arrival, welcomes him with an embrace and a gift of sardines. At this point onlookers realize just how amazing their relationship is, for Dindim’s far-flung friend isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, an aquatic bird.
Rather, he’s a human being by the name of Joao Pereira de Souza, a septuagenarian part-time fisherman. Of all the people in the village de Souza is the only one allowed to pick Dindim up, with the penguin loving nothing more than sitting in his soulmate’s lap.
How did this unlikely friendship blossom? Well, back in May 2011 de Souza spotted a starving Dindim on a nearby beach. The penguin was covered in oil – unable to swim properly or hunt for fish, the bird’s future seemed bleak.
It’s not unusual for Magellanic penguins to migrate to Brazil, but few are seen as far north as the waters around Rio. Dindim, thousands of miles from home and in desperate need of help, was fortunately about to meet his human savior.
De Souza, on realizing the seriousness of the situation, decided to temporarily take in Dindim. After bringing him home it took the fisherman a whole week to remove the oil from the penguin’s sticky feathers.
When a sardine-filled Dindim was nursed back to health de Souza released him back into an oil-free ocean. Off the penguin swam, never to return. Or so the elderly fisherman thought.
Just a few hours later de Souza heard a strange noise in his backyard. It sounded a bit like a donkey, but when the fisherman stepped outside he was amazed to see Dindim standing there, apparently asking to be taken in once more.
The penguin’s wish was granted. He would spend the next few months living happily alongside the de Souzas until one day in February in 2012, when his migratory instincts encouraged him to head back into the sea.
Dindim’s departure was strangely unceremonious – he simply got up and left, without so much as a squeak. But de Souza and his family had by no means seen the last of the penguin they had rescued and cared for.
The following June the fisherman once again heard the donkey-like sound in the backyard. He went out to check and, sure enough, there was Dindim. It’s a cycle that’s since been repeated every year – Dindim arrives in June and doesn’t head off again till February.
“I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me,” de Souza said in an interview with Globo TV. “No one else is allowed to touch him. He pecks them if they do.” This is a pair, it seems, with a very special bond indeed.
“Everyone said he wouldn’t return but he has been coming back to visit me,” the fisherman added. “Every year he becomes more affectionate as he appears even happier to see me.”
Brazilian marine biologist Joao Paulo Krajewski, who interviewed de Souza on Globo TV, later told British newspaper The Independent that he’d “never seen anything like this before.” “I think the penguin believes Joao is part of his family,” he explained, “and probably a penguin as well.”
While the pair’s story is undoubtedly remarkable, Krajewski has cast doubt on whether Dindim really travels as far as people think. Could the penguin really make the 5,000-mile roundtrip every year?
Speaking separately to CNN, Krajewski explained that he isn’t exactly sure where the penguin goes between February and June, but that it probably isn’t as far south as Patagonia. And while the biologist is naturally cautious about the mixing of man and animal, he said that in this case de Souza’s actions “allowed Dindim to live.”
No matter how far Dindim travels, one thing’s for sure: each year the penguin will do everything he can to return to the man who saved his life. And each year he will be treated like a member of the family.