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Penguin Swims 5,000 Miles to Visit the Man Who Saved His Life

Their friendship began five years ago.

A Magellanic penguin and a retired 71-year-old Brazilian bricklayer’s beautiful friendship has warmed hearts around the world. But the issues that brought them together point to a scary problem in our world’s oceans. It all started back in 2011, when fisherman João Pereira de Souza found a penguin washed up on the beach in front of his house, soaked in oil. De Souza cleaned him, fed him sardines, gave him a safe place to rest, and named him Jingjing.

After spending 11 months with de Souza, Jingjing made a full recovery and was ready to mate, so he returned to the ocean. Soon after, Jingjing found his way back to de Souza’s house; an unbelievable feat because the Magellanic penguin breeds off the Patagonian coasts of Argentina and Chile, 3,000 to 5,000 miles away. “I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me,” de Souza 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.”

Jingjing has become a source of amusement for the local fishing community. “The funniest thing is that the penguin might stay here for a week,” a fisherman says. “Then it walks down to the beach and leaves. It spends 10, 12, 15 days and then comes back to the same house.” Penguins are known for being loyal to their mates, so some think that Jingjing believes de Souza is a penguin.

The cute story of de Souza and Jingjing is important not just because of their bond, but because it speaks to an issue facing the seabird. Since 2010, there has been a steep increase in the number of Magellanic penguins washing up on Brazil’s shoreline. “Every year the strong ocean currents from the Falkland region traps and brings many species of seals, whales, dolphins, turtles, and penguins to the Brazilian coast,” Professor David Zee told The Independent. “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.”

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