Up close and personal with royalty in New Zealand

As shown by the upcoming royal visit to Canada and California of newly married’s Will and Kate, it’s almost impossible for royalty to go anywhere in the world without pre-planning, media releases, and huge entourages.

But in New Zealand recently, one royal visitor – an Emperor Penguin all the way from Antarctic – managed to do just that. He simply turned up on New Zealand shores last week, completely alone, without fanfare or entourage.

In fact, the visit was so unexpected that stunned residents, on coming across the emperor penguin standing on the sand at Peka Peka Beach on the Kapiti Coast, thought their eyes were playing tricks on them.

It was, after all, a most unusual sight.

While many breeds of penguins make their home in New Zealand, emperor penguins do not (in fact, the only other sighting of a emperor penguin in New Zealand was in 1967 at Southland’s Oreti Beach.)

Like most royalty, the newly arrived emperor penguin (dubbed ‘Happy Feet) soon attracted camera happy crowds and media who smelled a story.

It also attracted it’s own bodyguards, local residents who, having quickly became highly protective of their visitor, were determined to ensure that the crowds (and the media) kept their distance.

But Happy Feet wasn’t so happy.

Homesick and stranded on a beach thousands of miles from home, he was becoming dehydrated and overheated and started eating the sand (possibly mistaking it for snow) and driftwood. It was a diet guaranteed to make him became lethargic, weak, and dangerously unwell.

Emergency medical treatment was needed if the emperor penguin was to have any chance of survival.  Department of Conservation officials transported Happy Feet to Wellington Zoo for emergency surgery.

A team of Vets and the Department Head of Endoscopy at Wellington Hospital went to work scoping and removing clumps of sand (watch video footage of procedure here) that were starting to form into lumps of concrete from Happy Feet’s stomach.  This procedure, along with intravenous rehydration therapy, looks like it might just get Happy Feet back on his feet.

Then it will just be a question finding a way to help Happy Feet get back home.

(photo credit: Tony Lewis)


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