Condemnation over Happy Feet delay

Sarah Papageorgiou (left), Dr Lisa Argilla and Dr Baukje Lenting prepare the Emporer penguin for surgery, July 2, 2011.
Sarah Papageorgiou (left), Dr Lisa Argilla and Dr Baukje Lenting prepare the Emporer penguin for surgery, July 2, 2011.
X-rays reveal Happy Feet has passed most of the sand from his stomach.
X-rays reveal Happy Feet has passed most of the sand from his stomach.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo. Left to right, vets Baukje Lenting and Lisa Argilla.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo. Left to right, vets Baukje Lenting and Lisa Argilla.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo.
Happy Feet the emperor penguin gets X-rayed at the Wellington Zoo.

International outrage was levelled at the Conservation Department after its early decision to leave Happy Feet to fend for himself at Peka Peka Beach.

Emails released to The Dominion Post reveal the scale of condemnation directed at DOC by people from around the world who believed intervention should have come sooner.

The emails also show how close Happy Feet was to being euthanased.

X-rays taken by Pacific Radiology yesterday showed the juvenile penguin was making good progress and half the sand had been passed from his stomach – the rest was expected to pass naturally.

Wellington Zoo vet science manager Lisa Argilla warned he was not out of the danger zone yet.

"If there's a stick we can't see. It just needs to angle incorrectly and it could jam and cause problems."

Although it was difficult to put a date on it, Happy Feet would probably stay at the zoo for a month before he could be released.

He would probably be given access to the "pool room", although icebergs may need to be made and placed in the water to make it colder.

Dr Argilla refused to comment on the potential for Happy Feet to experience psychological trauma, given that emperor penguins were used to socialising with other animals and spending time swimming and diving.

He would still be quite stressed, but was improving and moving around a bit more in the makeshift room he was being kept in. "When you handle him he's very stroppy."

Emails sent to DOC since Happy Feet's discovery show the strength of feeling against the agency's decision not to intervene immediately.

An email sent on from Kapiti area manager Rob Stone to the office of Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson also revealed the abuse became personal.

"I am concerned that as time goes on, the clamour for intervention will grow, and become political. The area programme manager managing this is receiving emails that are close to being abusive, from persons associated with animals rights causes.

"There is a danger that in time the penguin may grow weak and in danger of expiring on the beach in public view."

The following day, when the penguin was eventually moved, Mr Stone updated Ms Wilkinson and said his condition had deteriorated.

"A likely recommendation from vets will be to remove it from the beach [and therefore public view] to a clinic [Massey or possible Wellington Zoo] and then euthanasia."

Yesterday, a specially formed Penguin Advisory Committee decided the best option would be to release Happy Feet in the southern ocean, south east of New Zealand.

This is the northern edge of the known range of juvenile emperor penguins.

EMAILS SENT TO DOC ABOUT PENGUIN

-I was thinking that you were a human and responsible nation, but now I believe that I am wrong.

-You have decided to let him die, and it will be a very painful death. Starving and sweating to death. You have proved us to be nothing else than selfish and vile human beings. And the worst part is that you will pay this. You will suffer what this penguin is suffering.

-Why leave him there eating wet sand? I worry that he will be attracted by a predator of some kind or that he won't make it home safely.

-It is inhumane to sit back and watch him starve to death.

-If you need to find a place that is cold enough for Happy Feet, I am happy to offer my blimin cold flat in Mt Victoria which is only 10 minutes walk to the equally cold Oriental Bay beach.

-At least have the decency to euthanise this poor animal Please please help it get home, it is too sad to think of it never seeing emperor penguins again and it will never get there by itself.

The Dominion Post