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Happy Feet could take months to regain strength

Monday 27 Jun 2011 5:51 p.m.

By Charlotte Shipman

A specialist from Wellington Hospital has joined the fight to save the lost Emperor penguin.

He used a tiny camera, designed for human colons, to help remove sticks and pebbles lodged in the penguin's throat and stomach.

But even with a full recovery, it may be months before the penguin will be ready for a trip home.

Is the first time the procedure has been done at the Wellington Zoo.

“We probably emptied about half the stomach hopefully now with a bit of luck the stomach will now start functioning on its own accord,” says John Wyeth, head of endoscopy at Wellington Hospital.

On a human, the operation would usually take Mr Wyeth just 10 minutes. Instead it took two hours.

“I had 80cm of that scope inside him then we had to do a sharp almost 180 degree bend inside him to get most of the debris sitting in his stomach,” says Mr Wyeth.

Despite three anesthetics in four days the young penguin is showing its strength.

“His demeanour is good. Yesterday he actually punched me in the stomach with his flipper,” says Lisa Argilla, vet manager at the Wellington Zoo.

“He's been calling, so it's really awesome to hear that real Emperor penguin call for real and not just on a documentary so that's really cool.”

But the penguin needs to gain weight if it is to survive the long swim back to Antarctica.

“It's not going to be anything we do fast I guess his condition at the moment he's pretty starved,” says Ms Argilla.

While Ms Argilla says it is still touch and go, each piece of debris removed increases its chance of survival.

The Department of Conservation will plan how to get the penguin back to Antarctica over the next few days. It is hoped it can be dropped off in sub-Antarctic waters so that it can swim the rest of the way home.

But it will still be months before it is fit enough to make the journey.

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