A penguin and a retired bricklayer are birds of a feather.
Joao Pereira de Souza, 71, from an island off Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, found the flightless bird in distress in 2011 — covered in oil and floundering on the beach.
He rescued the South American Magellanic penguin, spent a week cleaning its sticky feathers, nursed him to health and named him Dindim, before setting him free in the wild, according to the Daily Mail.
But several months later, de Souza was shocked to see that Dindim had returned to the island, and even more stunned when the penguin seemed to recognize his savior and waddled home with him.
“I love the penguin like it’s my own child and I believe the penguin loves me,” de Souza said.
“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 said he increased Dindim’s strength by feeding him a steady diet of fish before trying to release him into the water.
“But he wouldn’t leave. He stayed with me for 11 months and then, just after he changed his coat with new feathers, he disappeared,” de Souza said. “Everyone said he wouldn’t return, but he has been coming back to visit me for the past four years.”
The penguin spends eight months a year with de Souza and the rest of the time breeding off the coast of Argentina and Chile — swimming about 5,000 miles in the process.
“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,” de Souza said.
Biologist Joao Paulo Krajewski, who interviewed de Souza for Globo TV, said, “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.”
Krajewski said most experts try to avoid strong bonds with rescued animals to ease their transitions back into the wild.
“But in this isolated case, the authorities allowed Dindim to stay with Joao because of his kindness,” Krajewski said.
For his part, de Souza says he’s happy his fine-feathered friend has latched on to him.
“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-on-one time with me,” he said. “It’s a very special relationship.”