Not-So-Happy Feet: Stranded Penguin Critical After Two Operations

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Ross Setford / AP / NZPA

An Emperor penguin which came ashore at Peka Peka beach is treated by vet staff at a zoo in Wellington, New Zealand, Friday, June 24, 2011.

It seems letting “nature take its course” may have proved a dangerous turn for little Happy Feet.

The young emperor penguin who drifted ashore at New Zealand’s Peka Peka Beach last week was indeed strutting his “happy feet” along the sand. Until he started eating it.

Penguins eat snow and ice to keep themselves hydrated, and scientists believe Happy Feet was simply following a routine action in mistaking the sand for snow. But the beach covering was no sustenance for the young bird. He became dehydrated and lethargic as the week went on, and after four days of consuming sticks and sand, officials whisked him away Friday to the Wellington Zoo for treatment.

(PHOTOS: Global Warming Threatens Penguins)

The bird has since undergone two operations to clear his airway and stomach of the abrasive sand. Vets have treated the 60-pound penguin carefully by pumping water through him. But even after two treatments, the bird affectionately called “Happy Feet” – after the 2006 film about penguins – remains on an IV drip in critical condition and faces a third surgery Monday.

Scientists are trying to figure out how to safely get the penguin back to his Antarctic habit more than 2,000 miles away. But money could win this challenge instead: New Zealand businessman Gareth Morgan, who’s leading an expedition to Antarctica in February, has offered to give the bird a lift.

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