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Did An Argentine Landowner Bulldoze To Death Hundreds Of Penguins?

Between 300 and 500 birds (not to mention eggs and chicks) are thought to have died near a natural reserve, potentially all because of a land dispute.

Photo of penguins in Punta Tombo, Argentina

Penguins in Punta Tombo, Argentina

M M
Alidad Vassigh and Irene Caselli

PUNTA TOMBO, ARGENTINA — A resident of the southern Argentine province of Chubut has been charged under animal cruelty laws for allegedly bulldozing over and electrocuting hundreds of penguins from the Punta Tombo natural reserve, home to the world's largest colony of Magellanic penguins.

As Argentina daily Clarín reports, a possible land dispute within the property neighboring Punta Tombo may be the cause behind the death of between 300 and 500 Magellanic penguins, and the destruction of dozens of nests and countless eggs.


Chubut's Ministry of Tourism has filed criminal charges after finding that a wide path had been opened in a zone where penguins are nesting, destroying at least 146 nests, "both by crushing and subsequent compaction of the ground, as well as by the deposit of material extracted with the shovel on nests bordering the road," said biologist Pablo García Borboroglu in a report on the damages.

Outside the natural reserve

García Borboroglu, who is also the founder and president of the Global Penguin Society, said that he estimated that at least 292 chicks or eggs had been crushed but was unable to estimate the number of adults that could have been killed by the machines while inside their nests.

The report also found that an electric fence was installed in the area without permission, with cattle grazing nearby, which may have led to the electrocution of more birds trying to escape.

According to the Minister of Tourism and Protected Areas of Chubut, Néstor Garcia, the field where the penguins were killed is part of a private property, a few kilometers off the Punta Tombo protected area. "It is outside our jurisdiction, and wildlife guards cannot intervene," he said.

Photo of hundreds of penguins at the Punta Tombo natural reserve, Argentina\u200b

Penguins at the Punta Tombo natural reserve, Argentina

Francesco Veronesi

Unlikely accident

In late November, the nephew of a local landowner allegedly sought to expand his uncle's property, at the expense of the Magellanic penguins. The protected park — a major nesting point for penguins between September and March, before they migrate en masse to Brazil — currently hosts some 600,000 penguins, and receives an estimated 50,000 tourists a year.

Authorities from Argentina's Ministry of Environment said they would investigate and file charges if necessary, reports Página 12 newspaper. With the localisation of penguin nests being marked and registered, it is unlikely this could have been a bulldozing accident.

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