Rescuing Charlie the Penguin
There have been many trips where I found myself detoured to help an animal in need, but none can compare to the story of rescuing Charlie the penguin in Brazil.
A few years ago I went to Brazil for three weeks with my frequent travel companion, Ann Marie. The first week we did a riverboat cruise down the Amazon, and the second week we went to a quaint beach town called Buzios.
One day we rented a scooter and headed over to a beach in a cove we had heard about. After a few mojitos, I had worked up the courage to kayak out into the ocean. I’m not a fan of being in the ocean, so getting me out in the water was a treat for Ann Marie.
Filled with liquid courage, I plowed ahead and went quite a bit further out than Annie. When I came back, I told her, “I saw a penguin.” Given we were no where near the southern tip of South America, it was ludicrous that I would have seen a penguin. She laughed and refused to believe me, blaming the mojitos.
The next day, we took the scooter back to the area and went for a walk down into a cove. Suddenly I hear Ann Marie making noises and pointing at a penguin. Even though I had seen one the day before, I still could not believe my eyes. He was so precious, but our joy turned into sadness when we realized how sad he was. He just stood there with his head down. It was very clear something was not right.
He had a large gash across his chest, but it seemed to have healed. He also let me get close enough to pet him, which is a sure sign something is wrong with a wild animal. We didn’t know what to do, but we headed back to the hotel to see what we could learn.
Through various searches we learned that due to over-fishing, penguins are having to come farther up the coast of South America from the Antarctic to find food. The issue this creates is that the current to return home is very strong and the younger penguins are often not strong enough to make it back. The summer before our visit, 400 penguins had washed up on the beach in Rio.
We were determined to find someone to help the little guy we were now calling Charlie. We talked to the front desk who told us there is a group that will come get him, but they will euthanize him to do an autopsy to learn where he has been and why he got stranded. Wrong answer.
We went to a local vet who told us to leave him, as he “might” regain his strength and be able to swim home. Again – wrong answer. Then we heard about a guy who sometimes takes penguins in and rehabilitates them.
We headed out, and after hours of getting lost, finally found Leonardo. Thankfully, he said he would help. We took him to the cove with us, praying Charlie would be there, and there he was. He was in the exact same spot he had been in the night before, looking sad and hopeless. Leonardo walked right over to him, scooped him up, and put him in a box with his little head and shoulders sticking out the top. He just sat there on the floorboard checking us out like he was not scared at all. It was the cutest thing ever.
Leonardo kept Charlie for about a week (with another penguin he had in his bathtub), and then they were transported to a local zoo that was caring for the penguins until they had enough to fly them all back to Antarctica. About a month later, Charlie made his way back home.
Of all my rescue stories, this is hands-down my favorite. There is no doubt in my mind, had we ignored our gut feel that something was wrong and left him in that cove, he would have died a horrible, lonely death. We were his only hope, and there is nothing I would have rather done for those two days than create this memory of giving back in a very unique way.
Here is Charlie in the middle with the gash on his lower belly.