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Wayward penguin returning to sea

The wayward emperor penguin known to the world as Happy Feet has left a New Zealand zoo on the first leg of his journey back to cooler southern waters.

The three-foot penguin craned his head back and forth, flapped his flippers and seemed a little perturbed by his move from the Wellington Zoo to the research vessel Tangaroa, which was to leave port later.

Happy Feet was found on a New Zealand beach on June 20, far from his Antarctic feeding grounds. He was moved to the zoo after he became ill from eating sand that he likely mistook for snow. He has since regained weight and been cleared to be returned to the wild.

Lisa Argilla, a vet who has helped nurse the penguin back to health, said he has a "stronger and stroppier attitude" than when he arrived at the zoo, when his demeanour seemed flat and his feather condition was poor.

"He's definitely a survivor," she said.

His story has touched people from around the world. A web camera set up at the zoo has attracted about a quarter of a million viewers - despite the penguin doing little more than eating, sleeping and waddling.

"He's brought a lot of hope and joy to people," said Karen Fifield, Wellington Zoo's chief executive. "His story has driven to the heart of what makes us human."

The Tangaroa is New Zealand's largest research vessel and was already scheduled to head into frigid southern waters to check on fish numbers in order to set fishing quotas. Happy Feet has been placed in a custom-made crate for the journey and will be kept cool with 60 buckets of ice. He will be fed fish. He will be released after four days at sea at a latitude of 51 degrees south.

The boat's skipper, Richard O'Driscoll, said that once the Tangaroa has reached the drop-off point, he will likely cut the engines and then release the penguin from the deck into the sea using a makeshift canvas slide.

The penguin has been fitted with a GPS tracker, and people will be able to follow his progress online after he is released.

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From Belfast Telegraph