Penguin Heads Home After Making a Rare Wrong Turn

lost penguin returns photo
Photo: alisdair / cc

Two months ago, on a sandy stretch of coastline in north-western New Zealand, the most peculiar creature waddled ashore -- and straight into the hearts of animal-lovers the world over. Biologists said that the young Emperor penguin likely became lost while searching for food in the Antarctic Ocean, ultimately ending up thousands of miles away from its native habitat of ice and snow. At the time, the animal's fate seemed grim, due to the extent of its waywardness and resulting health problems. But now, after months of recovery in the hands of tireless veterinarians, the misplaced penguin is finally heading home. From the moment that the young penguin made a rare wrong turn north, away from its home in Antarctica, the odds against its survival were stacked -- but in a fortunate twist, it made landfall in New Zealand where it found no shortage of helping hands. The arrival of the bird, only the second of its kind ever to wind up there, grabbed the headlines, earning it the name 'Happy Feet'.

Experts had hoped that Happy Feet would return home on its own accord, but the animal's failing health required medical attention. Perhaps following its instinct to quench its thirst by eating snow and ice, the penguin unwittingly took to eating sand, forcing veteranarians to step in and provide the bird with a special concoction of blended seafood, the media dubbed "Fish Milkshakes" with which to nourish Happy Feet back to health.

Now, New Zealand's reports that the wayward Emperor penguin is fully recovered and ready to return to life as normal:

Zoo veterinarian Lisa Argilla, who has tended to Happy Feet since his arrival from Antarctica in June, said he was one healthy bird.

"I'm pretty confident we've got him back to a good level of fitness, and he's ready to go out there and try and survive in the wild."

She would try not to cry when he left. "It's been very special for me, however ... I like the fact that we can get him back into the wild, it's very exciting."

With its new clean bill of health, experts have made arrangements for Happy Feet to head home -- but not without a little assistance and a way to track its progress. Over the next few days, the young bird will be transported on a research vessel into the Southern Ocean and released to finish the final leg home. And to make sure it gets there safely, after a farewell party in Wellington, New Zealand, vets attached a GPS monitor to track the penguin's progress over the next four months.

Some have criticized the expense associate with saving a member of a relatively common species, but Happy Feet's resilience and determination to survive has proven to be quite extraordinary -- but even more so, is the outpouring of support its received along the way.

With a little luck and the encouragement of countless well-wishers across the globe, Happy Feet will soon set foot in its native climes. After that, perhaps Happy Feet's biggest challenge will be getting its penguin friends to believe its story.

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