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‘Happy feet’ penguin returns to Antarctica

(FP Photo Above/HO/Department of Conservation NZ)

A lost penguin is getting a lift home to Antarctica on a New Zealand research vessel.

FIGHTING FIT AND cheeky as ever, the world’s most famous emperor penguin is set to leave Kiwi captivity for his Antarctic home. Happy Feet captured the world’s attention in June when he washed up on a beach north of Wellington, more than 3000km from home.

UPDATE:  Tues. Sept. 6, 2011:  Heard on the news today that Happy Feet is now in his home waters making a beeline for his true home.  This makes me very happy!  🙂

(Photo Credit left: AAP/Kate Baker).  Bedraggled, confused and loaded up with 3kg of ingested sand, the sick penguin was lucky enough to be spotted and taken in by Wellington Zoo, where vets performed four operations to save his life.

His unexpected appearance on Peka Peka Beach shocked wildlife experts, who says he is only the second emperor penguin to ever set foot in New Zealand.

Happy feet fever

Every detail of his recovery, from the daily reports of weight gain and his dietary preference for “fish milkshakes” have been eagerly awaited by animal lovers everywhere. And more than 120,000 people track his progress via a webcam set up in his small, ice-filled room at the zoo.
But after more than two months of five star service, the time has come for Happy Feet to return home. He leaves Wellington Zoo for the freezing temperatures of the sub-Antarctic aboard a New Zealand research vessel today.

Vets have given him a clean bill of health ahead of his four-day voyage and considerably longer swim, fitting him with a satellite device so the public can continue to track his every move.

Emperor penguin migration

Hundreds of fans packed the zoo over the weekend to say goodbye and sign a huge farewell card with “sweet” messages. They could view the operating theatre in five-minute blocks to take photos of the heavily-sedated bird.
The zoo’s veterinary science manager Lisa Argilla, credited with saving the penguin, said she’d be sad to see him go but the time had come. “I’m pretty confident we’ve got him back to a good level of fitness, and he’s ready to go out there and try and survive in the wild,” she says. She said she would try not to cry over his departure, but many of his younger fans have already shed tears.

Authorities have decided to release Happy Feet at the northern point of where other juvenile emperor penguins would be at this time of year. He could then follow sea currents and return to Antarctica with the others.

Once released, he has the same survival chances of any other emperor penguin making the seasonal journey home, experts say. Track Happy Feet’s progress here.

Happy Feet in a special crate before making the four-day journey to the Southern Ocean east of Campbell Island. (Credit: AFP).


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