Inspiration

This Penguin Swims 5,000 Miles Every Year To See The Man Who Saved His Life

Love stories aren’t just limited to people—sometimes, they involve a person and a penguin. If you ever doubted that animals form an undeniable bond with humans, this story will make you a believer.

Since 2011, a South American Magellanic penguin has swam approximately 5,000 miles a year to see Joao Pereira de Souza, 71, who lives in an island village outside Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The two met in 2011, when de Souza, a part-time fisherman and retired bricklayer, found the penguin near the beach, covered in oil and struggling to live. De Souza cleaned him off in the shower, fed him sardines, and had him rest, naming him Dindim in the process.

A week later, de Souza thought the bird would be ready to go back into the sea, but Dindim had other plans—and stayed with de Souza for 11 months. Then “…just after he changed his coat with new feathers, he disappeared,” said de Souza.

But, a few months later, de Souza had a surprise visitor… the penguin. Dindim saw him and followed him to his house. Aww.

Since 2011, Dindim spends about eight months per year with de Souza, and probably the rest of the year off the coast of Argentina and Chile, 3,000 to 5,000 miles away, breeding.

“I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me,” de Souza said to 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. Everyone said he wouldn’t return but he has been coming back to visit me for the past four years. He arrives in June and leaves to go home in February and every year he becomes more affectionate as he appears even happier to see me.”

Talk about animal instincts. But what do scientists say?

“I have never seen anything like this before,” Biologist Professor Joao Paulo Krajewski, who spoke to de Souza for Globo TV, said to The Independent. “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.”

Scientists say that penguins are loyal, staying with the same mate for life, and they live for approximately 25 years. It definitely seems like Dindim won’t be leaving de Souza for too long any given year.

A twist in the story? Keeping wild animals as pets is illegal in Brazil. “Professionals who work with animals try to avoid relationships like this occurring so they are able to reintroduce the animal into the wild,” Krajewski said. “But in this isolated case the authorities allowed Dindim to stay with Joao because of his kindness.”

And de Souza is grateful for the opportunity, too. “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,” said de Souza. “It’s a very special relationship.” We’ll say.

You can watch more on their love story here.