High hopes for New Zealand's Happy Feet
27 Jun 2011
‘Happy Feet’ - the Antarctic emperor penguin that made New Zealand visitor arrival history by finding its way to a North Island beach - continues its fight for life under the watchful eye of Kiwi medics and conservation experts.
The juvenile penguin hit international headlines last week (22.6.11) when it came ashore on Peka Peka Beach, on the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington, and 3200km from his usual home in Antarctica.
It is only the second recorded sighting of an emperor penguin on New Zealand shores.
After becoming confused and eating sand, mistaking it for snow, the not-so-happy penguin was rescued from the Kapiti beach and taken to Wellington Zoo for expert treatment.
The bird remains in a critical condition after undergoing a third operation today (27.6.11) to remove sand and sticks from its stomach.
A leading Wellington gastroenterologist who normally operates on humans, helped with the procedure.
Doctors say they will check the penguin’s stomach again and repeat the suctioning operation if necessary.
Bed of ice
Happy Feet weighs in at 27kg and is being kept cool in a makeshift temperature-controlled room, on a bed of ice.
Wellington Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said although staff were used to doing such operations, gastroenterologist Dr John Wyeth who trained at the Royal Free Hospital in London, added experience and brought specialised equipment for the procedure.
The process of inserting a camera down the penguin’s throat and into its stomach confirmed what experts suspected and a handful of sticks, 150ml of sand and 400ml of fluid were removed as part of the operation.
Penguin nedia star
Happy Feet has become a media star and won the hearts of Kiwis who flocked to see him at Wellington Zoo over the weekend. Visitors and media have been able to watch as the bird has undergone the life-saving procedures.
If Happy Feet pulls through, penguin experts will debate whether sending the bird back to the Antarctic is the best option.
A Massey University penguin expert, Associate Professor John Cockrem, said choices included releasing him into Foveaux Strait between the South Island and Stewart Island, or transporting him to Antarctica by boat or plane.
The next trips to Antarctica are supply flights to Scott Base in August.
New Zealand businessman Gareth Morgan has also offered Happy Feet a berth on a Russian icebreaker ship, but that would not be until February.
If he was released near Stewart Island, a tracking device could be used to follow his path, Cockrem said.
Oreti Beach emperor
The Department of Conservation says the only other recording of an emperor penguin in New Zealand was in 1967 at Oreti Beach in Southland - on New Zealand’s southern coast.
The emperor is the largest of all penguins - an adult reaches more than a metre tall and weighs up to 30kg. They feed on fish, krill, squid and a wide range of marine invertebrates, and hold the diving record at 450m deep and 11 minutes underwater.
Although the visiting emperor penguin is a foreigner, penguins are no strangers to New Zealand - the country is home to six of the 17 penguin species, and offers great opportunities to view the intriguing birds in their natural habitat.
Background: New Zealand native penguins
The yellow-eyed penguin - one of the world’s rarest breeds - is found around the south-east coast of the South Island, on Banks Peninsula, on Stewart Island and in the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell islands.
A yellow-eyed penguin colony on the Otago Peninsula is one of the main tourist attractions for visitors to the southern city of Dunedin. There is another colony on Banks Peninsula, in Canterbury.
Little blue penguins - the world’s smallest penguin - are found on the Otago Peninsula, at Oamaru, and in many other places throughout New Zealand.
The other New Zealand native penguins include the Fiordland crested penguin; the erect-crested penguin which makes up the breeding population on the Antipodes and Bounty islands; the ‘rockhopper’ found on Campbell, Auckland and the Antipodes islands; and the Snares crested penguin which is usually only seen on the tiny Snares Islands, 200km south of the South Island.
As well as being able to view penguins in the wild, visitors can see them in the heart of Auckland city - at Kelly Tarlton’s Underwater World where an 80-strong colony of king and gentoo penguins is billed as the popular tourist attraction’s "coolest" experience.
The International Antarctic Centre, on the outskirts of Christchurch, has rare white-flippered
penguins. And, on Wellington’s inner city waterfront, visitors sometimes spot little blue penguins coming into roost under the boardwalk.
Kelly Tarlton's Underwater World celebrates
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