Happy Feet junior washes up

SAM BOYER AND SOPHIE SPEER
Last updated 05:00 20/02/2013
The sick royal penguin at  Wellington Zoo
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ
RARE FIND: The sick royal penguin – more than 2000km from home – at Wellington Zoo.

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Another errant penguin has achieved the unhappy feat of getting itself stranded on a North Island beach.

The juvenile royal penguin was found starving and critically ill at Tora, on Wairarapa's coast. It is receiving medical attention at Wellington Zoo, but it is "touch and go" whether it will survive.

The bird was too weak to stand yesterday, was on a drip and was being fed by a syringe down its throat.

Its misadventures follow those of the emperor penguin nicknamed Happy Feet, which was found on Peka Peka beach in 2011.

Like Happy Feet, the royal penguin should not have ventured anywhere near the North Island. Its home is more than 2000 kilometres away on the subantarctic Macquarie Island.

Only a handful of royal penguins have been spotted in New Zealand, and this is believed to be the first seen in the North Island.

"He's come ashore in New Zealand and it's really hot," Wellington Zoo veterinary science manager Lisa Argilla said yesterday. "He's dehydrated, which has caused his kidneys to fail. He's in critical condition."

The temperature on Macquarie Island at present is about 8 degrees Celsius. In the Wairarapa during the weekend it reached 28C.

The bird was found on Sunday afternoon by Jenny Boyne. "He was lying on his tummy and looked very sad," she said.

She drove it to the zoo on Monday - and it was lucky she did, Dr Argilla said. "He would've just stood there and died. Those people saved his life."

Although zoo staff believe it to be a male, they are not yet sure.

The penguin, who is "not much more than a year old", should weigh about 4.5 kilograms, she said, but it tipped the scales at just 2.7kg.

She believed it probably got caught in a current and became disoriented.

It is now being fed a "fish milkshake" of pureed sardines mixed with vitamins and oil. If it survives, it will need about six weeks to return to full health, and will then be released in the South Island.

Dr Argilla said she was reluctant to name the penguin yet.

"We've been thinking we should give him some poncy royal name, but I don't want to name him until we know he'll survive."

AVIAN ROYALTY

Royal penguins live on the subantarctic Macquarie Island and are listed as vulnerable.

Their royal name comes from the yellow crest on their heads.

They live in very large colonies, with the largest, 500,000 pairs, at Hurd Pt on Macquarie Island.

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Royal penguins are migratory, leaving Macquarie Island after the breeding season. It is unknown where they go at this time.

The chicks leave the nest in late February, after which the parents return to sea to fatten for the moult, which begins in mid-March. Then the royal penguins remain at sea until the next breeding season (in September).

- The Dominion Post

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