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Sand-eating Kapiti penguin still causing concern

Saturday 25 Jun 2011 6:36 p.m.

By Charlotte Shipman

The prognosis for the Kapiti Coast’s Emperor Penguin who lost its way isn't looking good.

The sand it has been eating is forming concrete balls in its stomach and could cause it to rupture.

With a stomach still filled with sand, the penguin's chances of survival are slim.

“It's quite serious to have that much sand in your stomach so even though he looks like he is doing okay he is definitely, I would still class him as quite critical,” says Wellington Zoo’s Lisa Argilla.

The 22 kilogram penguin may have up to three kilograms of sand inside it.

“The sand particles, they are getting quite dehydrated in his stomach and they are just forming concrete,” she says.

The penguin's second operation in two days was performed in front of a captive audience at Wellington Zoo's animal hospital.

It was taken there from Peka Peka Beach on the Kapiti Coast, where it lived for five days.

It's being cared for in the native wing of the hospital, where it’s kept cool thanks to 150 kilograms of donated ice.

It's thought the penguin is about three and a half years old. Feathers have been sent to Massey University to determine its sex and which colony it’s from in Antarctica.

Staff say they'll try to flush out more sand on Monday but if it's possible, they want to avoid surgery.

“Once you do that there are huge risks associated with that and you can just imagine opening the stomach and having sand spill out of the stomach into the abdominal cavity,” says Mrs Argilla.

 Zoo staff haven't named the penguin because they don't want to get too attached, but admit they've already formed a bond with the animal, which has been nicknamed "happy feet" by the media.

It's a bond shared by thousands hoping for a speedy recovery.

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