It’s been a summer of news and happenings — after Hurricane Irene, many people in my New Jersey town are without electricity until Labor Day; both orange power cords and fallen trees are lying across the streets — but the story of Happy Feet has, I’m not sure why, taken precedence in my thoughts. Nine weeks ago on June 20, the emperor penguin was found walking on Peka Peka Beach, north of Wellington in New Zealand. He’d somehow gotten way off track and swam 2,000 miles from Antartica. He stayed on the beach for some days but was taken in by the Wellington Zoo after eating driftwood and sand (which he’d mistaken for snow).
After surgery to get all of that out of his digestive tract, Happy Feet spent the past several weeks recovering in a specially air-conditioned room. The Wellington Zoo set up a webcam and the three-year-old penguin acquired a worldwide following with more than a quarter of a million visitors checking the site. $28,000 in donations came in to help pay for his surgery and care.
He has now been outfitted with a tracking device, says the New Zealand Herald, so his fans can still see his progress via the internet. You can follow Happy Feet’s progress via the Wellington Zoo website, the Sirtrack website and the Our Far South website.
On Monday, after a farewell party at the zoo with 1,700 fans, Happy Feet was transferred to a National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research vessel, the Tangaroa, which is to sail to the Campbell Islands, 700km south of New Zealand. He’ll be kept cool with 60 buckets of ice and fed a diet of fish. From there, he’ll be released next week in a specially designed cold cage into the southern ocean. Lisa Argilla, the zoo’s vet “who has overseen his recovery from near death” is accompanying him. Once back in the ocean, Happy Feet will hopefully swim back safely to his home in Antarctica with, it goes without saying, quite a story to tell.
As Wellington Zoo chief executive Karen Fifield told ABC News, “We have a bittersweet moment, I think, for the zoo. We are a bit sad to see Happy Feet go.” Argilla noted that “Obviously, the world is attached to him. I am attached to him, and my team is attached to him. But it’s the best thing for him.”
I’m very glad Happy Feet is healthy and on his way home but can’t help feeling a bit of a pang too. Hope he travels safe; certainly he is in the thoughts of many.
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Photo of an emperor penguin swimming by linpadgham
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