Lost Penguin ‘Happy Feet’ Needs Permit to Head Home to Antarctica

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Wellington Zoo / Handout / Reuters

Visitors watch an emperor penguin nicknamed "Happy Feet" at the Wellington Zoo June 25, 2011.

Can’t Happy Feet, the now-famous New Zealand penguin, catch a break? In a trying turn of events, the poor bird can’t even get back home to Antarctica without a special permit.

First, the three-year-old male—at least we think he is a male, but DNA tests will tell us for certain—lost his way from his native Antarctica and swam 2,000 miles to the Peka Peka beach in New Zealand. How’s that for a rough start?

Then, he started eating sand—in his defense, if you don’t know what sand is, it can seem a lot like snow—and four days of that caused serious dehydration, leading to multiple surgeries at the Wellington Zoo to clear his airways of sand and other debris.

Then, just when things were starting to look up for the bird, he gets dealt another blow. That pesky Antarctic Treaty says that no living bird can be taken to Antarctica due to a risk of disease. Scientists don’t want some unknown disease to kill off all of Happy Feet’s friends a year down the road.

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So, the only way Happy Feet can get back home is with a special permit by the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry’s Antarctic policy unit—we bet you didn’t know that existed—so don’t hold your breath on that happening. He had been offered a free ride by a businessman earlier this week.

Then, of course, comes the problem of not knowing where exactly in Antarctica the little guy lives. He may get placed with complete strangers.

So, just like with any government decision, New Zealand has set up a penguin advisory committee with a panel of experts to determine the fate of Happy Feet, who now rests comfortably in stable condition at the Wellington Zoo.

Will the committee deem him Antarctica worthy and seek a permit? Will they simply release him off New Zealand’s south coast and hope for the best? Is there another fate for Happy Feet? Maybe they should make a movie about Happy Feet. Oh, never mind.

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