Multimillionaire philanthropist Gareth Morgan is coming to the rescue of Happy Feet, the stranded and desperately ill penguin.
Morgan said that if Happy Feet survives, he would take it back to Antarctica on a Russian icebreaker.
The Kiwisaver provider is leading an expedition to the Ross Sea on the Spirit of Enderby in February and said Happy Feet and a Conservation Department minder could come along for the ride.
Happy Feet was welcome to jump ship if it met other emperor penguins along the way, Morgan said.
The emperor penguin, which has captured New Zealand hearts, was last night at Wellington Zoo recovering from dual operations to remove sand from its oesophagus and stomach.
The Antarctic visitor apparently confused the sand with ice, which penguins eat to cool down, when it arrived on the Kapiti Coast, north of the capital.
Zoo veterinarian Lisa Argilla says the 3kg of sand threatened to harden into concrete balls that could rupture the penguin's stomach.
She said Happy Feet was in a critical condition, despite the surgery. The young penguin was last night in an air-conditioned room at the zoo, nibbling on shaved ice while it recovers from the surgery. Happy Feet was taken to the zoo's hospital on Friday from Peka Peka beach where it was first seen earlier in the week.
It had become increasingly distressed and lethargic.
On Friday vets removed sand from its oesophagus but x-rays revealed more in its stomach.
Yesterday's procedure involved pumping water into its stomach and, although a lot of sand was removed, vets say there is still a lot more to come out.
Another procedure is likely to be carried out tomorrow but veterinarians say any further surgery after that would be a serious risk to the penguin's life.
Yesterday's operation was watched by about 100 people behind a glass partition and a zoo spokesperson said the procedure went well.
In addition to the comforts of air-con and shaved ice, Happy Feet is also hooked up to an IV drip to keep up its fluids.
Vets, via Twitter, have also remarked that while everyone has been referring to Happy Feet as a "he", it will take a few more days to determine its sex.
Happy Feet weighs about 27kg and is making headlines worldwide because of its 4000km swim to New Zealand.
The last known emperor penguin to visit New Zealand shores arrived at Southland's Oreti Beach in 1967. It was released into Foveaux Strait.
- Sunday Star Times