A penguin has struck an unlikely friendship with a Brazilian pensioner and swims 8,000 kilometres every year to visit him since he saved his life four years ago.
The South American Magellanic penguin named Dindim was found covered in oil and close to death in 2011 by a bricklayer and part-time fisherman, Joao Pereira de Souza.
The 71-year-old took the animal into his home at the shore of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, cleaned him up and fed him a diet of fish. After nursing him back to health, Pereira also named the penguin Dindim.
Dindim stayed with his rescuer for 11 months and they formed a very strong bond. But when Dindim’s coat was renewed with fresh feathers, the penguin disappeared into the sea. This could have been the end of the story. However, De Souza was overjoyed to see Dindim return the next year, and even the years following.
“Everyone said he wouldn’t return but he has been coming back to visit me for the past four years,” he said.
“Every year he becomes more affectionate and he seems even happier to see me. No one else is allowed to touch him. He pecks them if they do. He lays on my lap and allows me to give him showers, and to feed him sardines and to pick him up.”, the pensioner says about their unlikely friendship.
“I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me,” Pereira told Globo TV.
“No one else is allowed to touch him. He pecks them if they do. He lays on my lap, lets me give him showers, allows me to feed him sardines and to pick him up,” he added.
In the video, Pereira can be seen talking to the animal. “Dindim, there’s a guy who wants your picture. Don’t you like taking pictures?” he says. However, the penguin only looks at the old man and refuses to turn to the camera.
“I have never seen anything like this before. I think the penguin believes Joao 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”, said Biologist Professor Markus Krajewski who interviewed Pereira for Globo TV.
Dindim spends about eight months of the year with his human companion and the other 4 months breeding in his natural habitat, off the chilly Patagonia coasts of Argentina and Chile.
“He arrives in June and leaves to go home in February”, Pereira said.
To commute between his old and his new home, the penguin has to travel a distance of 8,000km twice a year.
“I’m flattered Dindim is happy to exchange his home with thousands of other penguins every year to find his way here to spend one-to-one time with me,” Pereira said.
However, sweet this relationship may be, environmentalists warn that more and more oceanic animals are found washed up on the beaches of Brazil. While hundreds of Magellanic penguins are known to naturally migrate thousands of kilometers north in search of food, an increasing number of them end up on the shore, where they are carried by strong oceanic currents from the Falkland region.
Professor David Zee, an oceanographer from Rio de Janeiro’s State University traces this back in part to global climatic changes.
This article originally appeared on Independent.