Lost Penguin ‘Happy Feet’ Takes First Steps Back to Antarctica

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Happy Feet hits the water to begin his journey home (AP / NIWA)

In this photo released by National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research Ltd. (NIWA), "Happy Feet," the wayward emperor penguin, slides down a makeshift water slide into the Southern Ocean, south of New Zealand, as he is released from the NIWA research vessel Tangaroa Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011. "Happy Feet" was back home in Antarctic waters more than two months after he came ashore on a beach nearly 2,000 miles (3,000 kilometers) from home and became an instant celebrity. (AP Photo/NIWA) EDITORIAL USE ONLY

The beloved emperor penguin is finally on his way home after a three-month detour to New Zealand.

Sent off Sunday morning in the Southern Ocean, Happy Feet needed “some gentle encouragement” to leave the comfort of his handlers. He slid backwards down a makeshift slide that dropped him into the ocean just 2,000 km (1240 miles) from his Antarctic home. “Once he hit the water he spared no time in diving off away from the boat,” veterinarian Lisa Argilla said.

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The three-year-old penguin known as “Happy Feet” became a veritable celebrity when he waddled up on a New Zealand beach in June. But he wasn’t wandering for long – Happy Feet became seriously ill after consuming large amounts of sand, likely mistaking it for snow. After numerous operations at the Wellington Zoo, he was nursed back to health with delicious fish milkshakes. He was a centerpiece at the zoo, which saw its attendance double during Happy Feet’s stay.

But now, healthy and – most assuredly – happy, he’s en route to his homeland. We hope his penguin brethren have quite a homecoming party planned.

And there should be no concerns about little Happy Feet losing his way once again. Scientists – and you, too – can track his progress at www.nzemperor.com.

MORE: Happy Feet Needs Permit to Return Home