Asia-Pacific

New Zealand: Poorly Emperor penguin moved to zoo

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Media captionLisa Argilla, Wellington Zoo vet: 'It is definitely worth trying to move him back down south where he belongs'

A young Emperor penguin found washed up on a New Zealand beach has been taken to the zoo amid fears for its health.

The bird's condition is believed to have steadily worsened since it was found on a North Island beach earlier this week.

Vets say the penguin is showing signs of overheating - so far from the sub-zero temperatures of its natural habitat in the Antarctic.

Wildlife experts intend to nurse it back to health at Wellington Zoo.

'Not happy'

They plan to release it back into the sea once it is strong enough, in the hope that it will be able to make the 3,000km (2,000 mile) return journey to the Antarctic.

Peter Simpson of the Department of Conservation said the penguin had been eating sand and small sticks, and trying to regurgitate the sand.

He explained the bird could have mistaken the sand for snow, which Emperor penguins eat when they get too hot.

After an examination by vets and experts, the penguin was placed in a large tub of ice and driven on the back of a lorry to Wellington Zoo some 65km (40 miles) away.

Mr Simpson said that, in the "worst-case scenario", the penguin might not survive.

"We have to remember that this thing is way outside its normal operating range of sub-zero temperatures," he said.

"It is like being in a very, very hot tropical climate for it, and it doesn't have the mechanisms to deal with that."

Christine Wilton, who found the penguin while walking her dog on Peka Peka beach on Monday, welcomed the decision.

"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".

Conservation experts say the bird is a juvenile, about 10 months old and 32in (80cm) tall.

Emperor penguins are the tallest and largest of all penguin species, growing up to 4ft (122cm) high and weighing more than 75lb (34kg).

The last time an Emperor penguin was spotted in New Zealand was 44 years ago.