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Happy Feet given every chance of survival

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Happy Feet given every chance of survival

The wayward emperor penguin Happy Feet has every chance of reuniting with his mates, according to a Massey University researcher.

Associate Professor John Cockrem, from the Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, spent three weeks camping and working with emperor penguins at a large colony at Cape Washington in Antarctica in 2004. He spent that time studying stress responses in the birds. He has also consulted with the Department of Conservation and Wellington Zoo concerning the care of Happy Feet.

Dr Cockrem says the plan to release Happy Feet from a NIWA vessel into the Southern Ocean is a good one. “Fifty-three degrees south is at the upper range of the area where other juvenile emperor penguins will be at the moment,” he says. “The two to four year olds generally head to sea before returning to Antarctica to breed at four or five years of age.”

The area where the penguin will be released is far enough south to meet the sea currents that would steer him towards Antarctica.

“Any further north and he may just swim north again towards the South Island,” Dr Cockrem says. “Once he is in the water his chances of survival are the same as those of any other emperor penguin.”

Penguins have a natural sun compass so Happy Feet will have no trouble finding his way home, Dr Cockrem says. “He seems to be in very good shape after rehabilitating at Wellington Zoo.”

A satellite tracking device had been attached to him so people would be able to follow his progress on the Internet.

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