Wellington Zoo in New Zealand announced Wednesday that a wayward Emperor Penguin dubbed “Happy Feet” from Antarctica will be returning home next week.
The penguin, which strayed over 2,000 miles from home and was washed up on a New Zealand beach in June, has attracted worldwide attention. Nicknamed “Happy Feet,” the animal has been cared for at Wellington Zoo since its arrival to New Zealand.
Happy Feet had to undergo many operations at the zoo after eating sand upon his arrival to New Zealand. Emperor Penguins normally eat snow for hydration, and experts believe Happy Feet mistook sand for his native fare. His health was restored with “fish milkshakes” after the surgery removed 6.6 pounds of sand.
Happy Feet will board a ship used for scientific research belonging to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) on August 29. A special crate was designed for the penguin to keep him “cool and comfortable” while aboard the Tangaroa, the ship which will carry out research into the Southern Ocean fisheries the bird is released.
Rob Murdoch, research manager at NIWA, commented about Happy Feet joining the crew on the Tangaroa in a statement released by the zoo. “Happy Feet has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and people across the world, and we’re pleased to be able to help safely return him to the Southern Ocean.”
The New Zealand Herald reports that the penguin will be released 53 degrees south “which is within the natural range of juvenile emperor penguins – they are often spotted on Campbell Island which lies at the same latitude.”
Experts are hoping that Happy Feet will swim toward Antarctica where up to Emperor Penguins live in colonies of up to 20,000 pairs.
The only other Emperor Penguin to arrive in New Zealand did so in 1967.
Before departing, Happy Feet will have a GPS device attached to him for future monitoring.