In a storyline straight out of a Disney movie, the wayward penguin that swam thousands of miles from its home in Antarctica to New Zealand is quickly recovering from emergency surgery that removed five pounds of sand and sticks from its stomach, according to CNN.
A few days ago, the emperor penguin, named Happy Feet, was in dire straights because it had swallowed massive amounts of sand thinking it was snow. Penguins swallow snow to cool themselves when they get too hot.
Despite growing confidence from doctors that the penguin will be fine, there remains the lingering question of what will happen if Happy Feet makes a complete recovery.
Although it seems obvious to simply send the penguin back home to Antarctica, there are a number of restrictions and risks, according to an article in Stuff.
Apparently, Happy Feet needs a special permit to return home because of a treaty 46 nations signed vowing never to allow a living bird to be shipped to Antarctica. Sending Happy Feet or any other bird there could risk spreading disease throughout the sensitive ecosystem.
Antarctica New Zealand science manager Ed Butler explained the risk in an interview with Stuff:
Agriculture and Forestry Ministry research shows a suspected virus that struck a colony of adelie penguins in Antarctica in 1972 killed 65 per cent of baby penguins in the colony of thousands.
“There are 150,000 breeding pairs in some colonies, and 65 per cent of that is a big number,” Mr Butler said. “That’s a lot of dead penguins for one penguin.”
One sick penguin could devastate entire colonies and no one wants that to happen.
However, even if he is granted a special permit to return, Antarctica is massive so there’s a chance where they drop him will be a thousand miles away from where he lived.
Scientists and environmentalists will continue debating and discussing what should be done with the penguin if it makes a full recovery.
Learn more about the penguin’s surgery from this video below.