RIO DE JANEIRO — An unlikely friendship between a man and a bird began in 2011, when a part-time fisherman rescued a dying penguin and took him home to recover. Every year since, the penguin has returned home to live with the old man.
Retired bricklayer Joao Pereira de Souza was walking along the beach near his island village in Rio de Janeiro one day when he noticed a penguin lying in a bed of rocks, covered in oil and starving to death. The elderly man brought the penguin to shelter, bathed him for a week to remove the tar, and fed him a steady diet of fish to nurse him back to health.
After 11 months, the penguin, affectionately named Dindim (or Jingjing accordingly to some reports) was released back into the sea. No one thought the two would ever meet again, but Dindim returned to the spot of the island where Pereira de Souza had first found him, and recognized his old friend walking about.
Now 71, Pereira de Souza claims the South American Magellanic penguin stays with him for about eight months of the year, arriving at his island in June and heading back to the wild every February for breeding season. South American Magellanic penguins breed just off the southern tip of Argentina and Chile, meaning the round trip distance to his offseason home is roughly 5000 miles.
After interviewing the penguin man for a segment on Globo TV, biologist Joao Paulo Krajewski said he “thinks the penguin believes Pereira de Souza is part of his family and probably a penguin as well. When he sees him he wags his tail like a dog and honks with delight.”