11 August 2011

Famous flightless bird meets famous Fry

NEW ZEALAND - Two creatures with very high social media profiles met this morning when British actor Stephen Fry visited Wellington Zoo and was allowed into celebrity emperor penguin Happy Feet's room.

Mr Fry, who has almost 3 million followers on Twitter, posted a photo of himself with Happy Feet on his Twitter account.

Happy Feet has quite a few followers of his own - the Associated Press reported that more than 120,000 unique visitors have logged onto the live webcam set up by TV3 in his room, and he is a popular topic on Facebook and Twitter.

According to the Dominion Post, the lucky Mr Fry was at the Zoo filming with chimpanzees as part of a BBC programme on language when zoo staff suggested he might like to meet the adventurous penguin.

The price of fame

But Happy Feet is certainly not a free bird. Wellington Zoo spokesperson Kate Baker told NZPA it has cost around NZ$10,000 to keep Happy Feet at the Zoo and it will cost around $30,000 to return him to the wild. This estimate includes his refrigerated transport from Wellington to Bluff and a fishing boat to take him to a point past Stewart Island for release.

So far the Zoo has raised $18,000, which has covered his upkeep, and the additional $8,000 will go towards his trip home. Ms Baker said the Zoo will continue fundraising to hopefully raise the remaining $22,000.

Forest and Bird advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell told the Sunday Star Times that $30,000 may seen like a lot to spend on one bird, particularly at a time when the Department of Conservation has had its budget cut and announced staff redundancies, but the publicity around Happy Feet had heightened people's awareness of birds and wildlife in New Zealand in general.

"I wouldn't begrudge Happy Feet his $30,000 because it has created an opportunity to talk," he said. "It might make people think about the wildlife that's around us all the time rather than what turns up once a century."

Read related posts

Stephen Fry meets Happy Feet, 11 August 2011, The Dominion Post
NZ penguin eats, sleeps, waddles to delight of web by Nick Perry, 5 August 2011, Associated Press
$30k bill to get Happy Feet back home, NZPA, 31 July 2011, NZ Herald
Happy Feet rated priceless publicity despite costs by Sarah Harvey and Michael Field, 31 July 2011, The Sunday Star Times

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