30 July 2011

Healthy Happy Feet could be on his way home soon

NEW ZEALAND - Media darling Happy Feet the emperor penguin has been given a clean bill of health and could be on his way home in late August.

The adventurous juvenile underwent a medical checkup at Wellington Zoo on Thursday, which included blood tests, x-rays and having a tracking device inserted under his skin.

Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker told The Dominion Post that the penguin had put on 4kg since he arrived at the Zoo. He now weighs 26kg and is "looking good".

The famous penguin's presence has lured visitors to the zoo, boosting visitor numbers by almost half, The Dominion Post reported. Thursday was the zoo's biggest day of the school holiday period and the first day Happy Feet could definitely be seen by the public as he was having some procedures done.

One lucky visitor, Irene Twist, was given the opportunity to get up close and personal with the bird after the zoo's chief executive found out she remembered seeing emperor penguins at Wellington Zoo in 1926 when she was only 4 years old.

Ms Twist told TV3 that she could hardly sleep on Wednesday night because she was so excited. After watching Happy Feet's procedures she was allowed to touch the bird.

"They let me stroke it and they opened up the feather and let me put my fingers into the body, he was so gorgeous," she said.

One News reported that Happy Feet had another unusual visitor: a special effects expert from Weta Workshop, who cast a mould of the bird's foot for future texture reference should they ever need it.

It's been a pretty big week for the penguin. Monday was Wellington's coldest day since records began, which may have caused disruption for travellers (and a shock to the system for this particular traveller arriving from Northern Hemisphere summer), but gave Happy Feet the opportunity for his first swim in the saltwater pool.

Ms Baker told The Dominion Post he was unlikely to get another dip for a while.

"If we had another really cold day we could do it, but it needs to be below 5 degrees for that to happen."

Happy Feet may be the right weight and condition for release, but the Zoo and Department of Conservation (DOC) are not rushing into anything.

Zoo veterinary science manager Lisa Argilla told the NZ Herald, "There are a lot of factors we need to consider just to keep him safe on the journey, so we just need to work through that and make sure we take him down south and have a successful release."

DOC biodiversity manager Peter Simpson said Happy Feet would travel from Wellington to Invercargill either by air or on a refrigerated truck. He would then travel from Bluff, 27 south of Invercargill, by boat to a point past Stewart Island where he would start his +3000km swim home.

The method of travel would have to be approved by Dr Argilla, based on how stressful it will be for Happy Feet.

Read related posts

Hundreds flocking to see Happy Feet, 29 July 2011, The Dominion Post
Return trip beckons for heavier Happy Feet by Shabnam Dastgheib, 28 July 2011, The Dominion Post
Penguin passes physical with flying colours, 28 July 2011, One News
Second encounter in 85 years for penguin-lover, 28 July 2011, TV3
Happy Feet feels right at home, 26 July 2011, NZ Herald

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