24 Jun 2011

Chilly bin mission for distressed penguin

8:22 pm on 24 June 2011

A lost emperor penguin that turned up on the Kapiti Coast earlier this week has been rushed to Wellington Zoo in a chilly bin for medical treatment.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) called wildlife vets and an emperor penguin expert, Massey University associate professor John Cockrem, to Peka Peka Beach on Friday morning after the rare visitor from the Antarctic started showing signs of distress.


Associate professor John Cockrem says the bird had been eating sticks and sand, thinking it was snow, and was not looking very lively.

The penguin was taken to the zoo in the chilled container and x-rayed. Vets also flushed sand found inside its body right up to its crop, and will rehydrate it.

The vets will decide if surgery is needed once the x-rays have been processed.

DoC spokesperson Matt Barnett says DoC rangers who closely monitored the Antarctic bird overnight noticed behaviour changes, and signs it might have ill health, in the morning. Mr Barnett says specialists were alerted "asap".

Mr Barnett says the penguin appeared to be overheating. DoC staff had been shading the bird, and had set up a cordon to avoid people crowding it.

Emperor penguins are the largest of the penguin species. Adults can grow to more than a metre tall and weigh up to 30kg. They feed on fish, krill, squid and a wide range of marine invertebrates and hold the diving record at 450 metres deep and 11 minutes underwater.

The last recorded sighting of an emperor penguin in New Zealand was at Oreti Beach in Southland in 1967.

DOC biodiversity spokesperson Peter Simpson told Checkpoint the longer term prospects for the bird are unclear.

One possibility might be to release it further south, which happened with the Oreti Beach visitor.