I went to the police rescue unit to take pictures of a Humboldt penguin, which is on the endangered list, that had been rescued a few days earlier from a beach full of bathers, very far from its natural habitat. The police chief told me, “We’re going to free it. Come with us.” Lima, Peru, is a city on the edge of the Pacific, with buildings and beaches full of summer tourists, traffic, noise and heat…and amidst all that, Tomas appeared.

Tomas was quiet and relaxed while awaiting his transfer to an island where there are entire colonies of his kind. The police rescuers took turns taking pictures with him and chatting about what penguins are all about. They named him Tomas after their cook at headquarters, because they both walked with the same gait.

Tomas, a lost Humboldt penguin, walks next to a mural at the headquarters of the police Salvage Unit in Chorrillos, before he is transferred to a penguin colony on San Lorenzo Island January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

Tomas provoked a child’s reaction in everyone, making them (and me) stop work to just watch a cute bird, take care of him, talk about him, and wonder how he had ended up on the beach. Tomas was restless and waddled all around the police station, giving me ample opportunity to take pictures.

We waited for the police to finish the paperwork for Tomas’ transportation and they put him into a patrol car. We went to a nearby beach to take a boat to San Lorenzo Island. By instinct Tomas only wanted to walk to the sea, mindless of the people and dogs all around.

Tomas, a lost Humboldt penguin, walks on the beach in Chorrillos, before he is transferred to a penguin colony on San Lorenzo Island January 26, 2011. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo

The slow boat took three hours to the islands offshore Lima, famous for their colonies of birds, seals and fish. We searched for more penguins to leave Tomas with and found a group of his species where the rescuers decided that the mission had ended. Three of the police lifeguards who had taken a liking to Tomas escorted him in the water, watching him submerge and easily beat them to shore. We left him there, in the perfect natural habitat.