A young penguin who got lost and ended up in New Zealand has reportedly been offered a ride back to Antarctica by a businessman.
The penguin, called Happy Feet after the 2006 movie by his New Zealand fans, is currently at a zoo hospital on an intravenous drip. He has had two medical procedures and faces another procedure Monday to remove more sand from his digestive system, the Associated Press reports.
Radio New Zealand reports that about 100 people gathered at the operating theater Saturday to watch the procedure being done and give support to Happy Feet.
The Emperor penguin was first spotted in New Zealand last Monday by a woman walking her dog on Peka Peka beach.
Experts think the penguin, estimated to be 10 months old, was born in Antarctica and got lost when he went looking for food. He ended up swimming 2,000 miles away to New Zealand. He is the first Emperor penguin to be seen in New Zealand in the wild in 44 years.
The penguin became an instant hit and crowds formed on the beach to watch him each day.
Originally, wildlife officials said Happy Feet would not be able to survive in New Zealand, but they could not bring him back to Antarctica as it could bring infections with it, and there was no transport available.
"We are going to let nature take its course," Peter Simpson, a program manager for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, told the AP Wednesday. "It roamed here naturally. What is wrong with that?"
Then on Friday, the penguin began to show signs of sickness, and health officials decided to take him to the zoo hospital.
Veterinarians and conservation officials became concerned with the penguin's health after seeing it eat sand and small sticks of driftwood, the Globe and Mail reported. The penguin became lethargic, and health officials worried it would die if they did not intervene.
"It was eating sand and small sticks, it was standing up than lying down and attempting to regurgitate the sand," Department of Conservation (DOC) spokesman Peter Simpson told AFP.
As Happy Feet got treated at the zoo hospital, New Zealand investment adviser Gareth Morgan offered to take it by boat to Antarctica next February. He is planning on leading an expedition to Antarctica then and could take the penguin on his Russian icebreaker.
He told Radio New Zealand that a sea passage would enable Happy Feet to jump ship if he saw other penguins en route.
"Of course until that time Happy Feet will have to be cared for here in Wellington, where we're lucky enough to have a great community of wildlife experts, capable not just of pumping sand but also ensuring this wayfaring fellow is hosted appropriately until it's time to set sail," Morgan wrote on his website.
"A sea passage is far more akin to the animal's natural rite of passage across the Southern Ocean than any trip in a Globelifter jet might be, with no risk of deep vein thrombosis."
SeaWorld in San Diego has also offered to help and take the bird.