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Friday, June 24, 2011

'Loneliest penguin in the world' falls ill after eating sand it thought was snow

-Lost Emperor hospitalised in New Zealand

By Richard Shears

Saviours: The Emperor penguin which came ashore at Pekapeka beach is treated by vet staff at a zoo in Wellington, New Zealand

It's just one calamity after another for this Emperor penguin.

After making a wrong turn in Antarctic waters and ending up in New Zealand, the ten-month-old bird has now been taken to hospital for eating sand that it confused with snow.

The penguin had been showing signs of distress as it waddled up and down Peka Peka Beach on the North Island of New Zealand.

Experts agreed that because it had never seen sand before, the penguin thought it was snow and began to eat it.

The theory was confirmed after the bird was X-rayed at Wellington Zoo.

It was given a flushing treatment to clean out the handfuls of sand that had built up in its body.

Emperor penguins, the largest of the species, normally feed on fish, krill, and squid.

Peter Simpson of New Zealand's Department of Conservation said the penguin probably started eating the sand to cool itself down - as the creatures normally do with snow if they get too hot.

Wrong turn: The Emperor penguin, nicknamed Happy Feet, got lost while swimming and ended up 4,000 miles away from its Antarctic home

Despite it being winter in New Zealand, the country is enjoying temperatures of up to 18C - too warm for a bird who is around 4,000 miles from its frozen Antarctic home.

Mr Simpson said: 'Temperature is a major issue for it. We need to monitor its well-being in these sorts of climates.'

Emperor penguins typically spend their entire lives in Antarctica. It has been 44 years since one was last spotted in New Zealand.

The penguin has also become lethargic and there are fears it might have picked up an infection.

Mr Simpson said: 'If we can nurse it back to health we might be able to reintroduce it to the sea in the hope it will swim back to Antarctica.'

Flying the penguin back home was not possible he said, because it is winter in Antarctica which means 24-hour darkness.

A long way from home: The Emperor penguin from the Antarctic was hospitalised after eating sand that it thought was snow on Peka Peka Beach, New Zealand

He added: 'We don't have facilities in New Zealand capable of providing the penguin with long-term accommodation, so we can only hope it will make its own way back if we are able to release it.'

A decision was expected to be made on whether an operation would be needed to clear the bird's throat, which appears to have a blockage.

Experts also believed that a large number of visitors going to Peka Peka Beach to look at the bird might have added to its distress.

Officials have now moved the penguin to Wellington Zoo so it can be better looked after.

Christine Wilton discovered the penguin while walking her dog and had nicknamed it Happy Feet.

She said: 'I'm so pleased it's going to be looked after. He needed to get off the beach. He did stand up this morning, but you could tell that he wasn't happy.'



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