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Stranded NZ penguin moved to zoo

Fears over the health of a young Emperor penguin stranded on a New Zealand beach have prompted officials to move it to a zoo.

The penguin's rare 2,000-mile journey from Antarctica has captured the imagination of many. But vets became concerned enough about the bird that they stepped in.

The bird, which was first spotted on Monday at Peka Peka Beach on the North Island, had been eating sand and small sticks of driftwood, which it had tried to regurgitate. The penguin appeared to grow more lethargic as the week progressed, and officials feared it would die if they did not intervene.

Colin Miskelly, a curator at Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand, said it made sense that a penguin might mistake sand for Antarctic snow, which Emperors eat for hydration, but he had no explanation for the bird eating wood.

Mr Miskelly was one of three experts who helped lift the penguin from the beach into a tub of ice and then on to the back of a truck. Mr Miskelly said he lifted the bird's rear while the others held its flippers and beak. The bird was docile enough that experts did not need to sedate it for the 40-mile journey to Wellington Zoo.

Christine Wilton, the local resident who discovered the penguin while walking her dog, was back at the beach to say goodbye. "I'm so pleased it's going to be looked after," she said. "He needed to get off the beach. He did stand up this morning, but you could tell that he wasn't happy."

Mr Miskelly said experts at the zoo are considering sedating the penguin and putting it on an intravenous drip as they try to nurse it back to health. Ideally, the bird will heal enough that it can be released into the wild, Mr Miskelly said, noting that there are no facilities in New Zealand designed to house an Emperor penguin long-term.

Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said veterinarians will give the bird a full health check. The zoo clinic has a salt water pool which has been used in the past to nurse smaller varieties of penguins, she said. Often sick birds require rehabilitation for a month or two before being released, Ms Baker said, adding that some creatures with severe injuries remain in captivity.

Experts believe the penguin is about 10 months old. It stands about 32 inches high. Experts have not yet determined whether it is male or female.

Emperor penguins are the tallest and largest species of penguin and can grow up to four feet high and weigh more than 75 pounds. They typically spend their entire lives in Antarctica. It has been 44 years since an Emperor penguin was last spotted in New Zealand.

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