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Happy Feet has a fishy appetite

Tuesday 28 Jun 2011 5:49 p.m.

By Charlotte Shipman

The lost Emperor Penguin recovering at Wellington Zoo after an operation to remove sand, stones and sticks from its stomach is proving to be a tough young bird.

This afternoon as it was being handled by zoo staff who were about to feed it, the penguin showed it had plenty of spirit.

Staff tasked with feeding the penguin said he was getting used to human treatment, and had not been fighting against them.

Vets say the penguin is recuperating well after having sticks and stones removed from its stomach.

Its tale of endurance has been reported throughout the world, but this is no super penguin.

“They have been satellite tracked as far north as half way to New Zealand, so it is natural for the penguins to be far north of the continent in winter,” said Massey University Professor John Cockrem.

Juvenile Emperor Penguins usually head north from Antarctica in the middle of summer.

They can spend months at sea, swimming thousands of kilometres before returning south in spring.

But “Happy Feet” will have to put on around six kilograms if he is to survive the harsh conditions of Antarctica.

Veterinary surgeon Lisa Argilla said his return may be delayed.

“We may decide it is too cruel to send him back in winter. We may need to think of a plan to give him a chance of survival”.

While penguins are social animals, their early years are largely spent solo, so experts aren't concerned Happy Feet might be lonely this far from home.

An advisory committee made up of penguin experts from around the country will meet tomorrow to discuss the penguin, but the Department of Conservation say it will be at least a month until its future is decided.

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