We try to keep a hands off approach to penguins but there are times when taking a penguin into care is worth while. We have over the years had many penguins in care, especially chicks who have not made it at sea. These are always worth taking into care as once fattened and sent back out to sea their chances are at least as good as a chick that has just gone from the burrow.
With adults it is best to turn the blind eye, but there are times of weakness when compassion takes over from common sense and especially during the moult we do get adults in. These are either adults of an older age or adults that have given their all to the chicks at the expense of themselves then hit a bad patch at sea with lack of fish to gain enough weight to get them through the moult. The latter are the ones that really deserve a break. The former are just at the end of their life, but it is impossible to really tell the age without an identification band so many are given the benefit of the doubt.
There are some of course that are unsaveable and either die shortly after being bought in or need to be put down because there is no hope of recovery. Our success rate in Rehabilitation is pretty high however and here are some of our more remarkable stories.
I spotted Parnia while kayaking standing on the rocks looking extremely thin and dejected.
After getting back on shore I grabbed a bucket and walked out to where I had seen her. She was still there and offered little resistance to capture. I had never seen such a thin penguin still alive and expected she would not survive a day. She is one I should have left as she had a deformed beak and would never survive in the wild.
Parnia spent a week on the verge of death but defied the odds and responded. She was the sweetest gentle penguin I had ever handled. Most are rather hard on the skin to say the least. Although I knew I should have left her I was glad I had saved such a sweet bird. I took her to the vet but little could be done for her deformed beak apart from a bit of a trim. To send her back into the wild would sentence her to the drastic loss of weight she had already suffered and I realised there were only two options for Parnia. Captivity or to be humanely put down.
As she was such a sweet natured bird I arranged for her to go to the Antarctic centre penguin attraction. She became the handlers favourite and lived there nice and plump for years as an ambassador for her species.
Penguin band: P 41 087
One year a starvation event happened right in the middle of the breeding season. Chicks were leaving early to certain death still fluffies. I responded by feeding some chicks at the burrows to try and keep them in. This worked a treat as after a week the parents returned and started to feed the chicks I had been feeding. Obviously the event had ended and the parents had found a fish source, too late for many chicks but for mine great news as all got away fat and fit. Two years later P41 087 turned up in one of my breeding boxes. He was one of the largest most beautiful penguins I had ever seen. He was my pride and joy to see such a success story and have evidence of it with the identification band. We no longer band penguins as it is now known bands do affect them at sea lessening their chances of survival first year.
Roxy was handed in by the Fox two a tourist sailing boat in Akaroa. Roxy was in very bad condition, injured with a head injury and extremely thin. She was a chick that had not been at sea for long and it did appear a boat may have run her over in her weakened condition. I gave her no chance of survival but much to my surprise she was alive the next day, and the next and by day three was well on her way to recovery. Her eye however did not recover and we soon realised she would never see out of it again. She had no chance of survival in the wild. She also ended up in the penguin attraction.
This is my favorite penguin story that demonstrates intelligence beyond what you would expect.
While running a penguin tour one night we found a horribly injured penguin beside the track all covered in blood. It was a Saturday night but I rushed him through to Christchurch the next day to an emergency vet centre to get him looked at. His wounds were mainly skin deep and appeared to be clean cuts but his lacerated leg was a concern as it was suspected a tendon had been affected. We suspected the culprit had been a shark.
The vet stitched him up and I took him home to recover on a course of antibiotics.
Recover he did and enjoyed being fed right through the moult. Penguins have to come onshore to moult and do not normally eat or drink for 2 weeks.
After he had moulted he made it obvious he was ready to go so I sent him off to sea still lame but in great condition. He shot off like a rocket.
One year later while running a penguin tour we found a penguin beside the track out in the open not far from where I had picked up Shark Bait almost exactly a year before. Usually a penguin in the open is an indication something is wrong so I picked him up. He was in very good condition but lame in one leg. I decided to give him a feed of fish later and was very surprised when he snatched the fish out of my hand and swallowed it gleefully the looked around for more. I guessed it was shark bait back in for another easy moult. As he was rather neat to show people as I fed him I obliged sending him yet again back to sea sleek and fit. He was one penguin who knew when he was onto a good thing
This was the most fun penguin I ever had in care.
While monitoring burrows one day I came across a burrow with one healthy chick and one very small runt. If one chick gets too far behind they simply die and the fouled nest can cause the healthy chick to become sick and die. The best option was to take the runty chick out, but then what to do with it?. I decided I would simply throw it in the bushes as it was far too young to take into care, but somehow it never left my hands and ended in a box at home.
Trying to feed such a young chick was not easy but the little guy responded well and started to put on weight. His runtyness left and he grew into a respectable penguin.
He became far too tame however and ran around like a puppy dog wiggling his tail and begging for food with sharp yapping noises. When it came time for him to leave he wasn’t exactly keen. Try 1 he returned second day yapping his way up the drive begging for more fish. He had obviously not found any for himself. He stayed in for a couple of days feeding then was sent off again. He returned next day for more fish. Try number three we took him by kayak right out to the entrance of the bay. For days he did not return but about 5 days later he came back home pretty knocked around and very thin hobbling his way up the drive. He must have been trying to get ashore onto the rocks in a big sea lacerating his feet on the barnacles. We gave up trying to send him to sea and he also is now at the penguin attraction.
Our Christmas Eve Saga
One Christmas Eve during a penguin tour we saw one of our Yellow Eyed Penguins drag itself ashore obviously injured and bleeding. We caught it to gauge its injuries. It had badly cut feet from an obvious shark attack. It must have kicked itself free of the jaws just in time but in the process got cut by the teeth across the tops of both feet.
Yellow Eyed penguins are rare and endangered. Every one is precious. It needed stitching as soon as possible if it was to survive, but what vet would be open on Christmas eve or Christmas day? Talk about bad timing.
I rang our closest vet in Little River and to my surprise he said to bring it straight over. This was 10 pm.
Our drive took an hour and a half so we arrived 11.30 pm and the vet was not there. We were just quietly panicking when suddenly a vehicle pulled up and the vet and guests piled out. I suspect they may had been interrupted from a Christmas evening family gathering adding to my feelings of guilt. The guests were obviously there to see a rare penguin which made me feel a little less guilty.
I expected the vet to use painless but he said he really could not stitch it without using gas. I knew from what a vet in Christchurch told me gas on a full stomach was not a good idea and hoped our Yellow Eyed Penguin had not eaten before its brush with the shark.
Putting the penguin under just didn’t seem to be working as it was drifting in and out of conciseness. Suddenly it started to heave and threw its head around with the biggest projectile vomit of stinking fish all across the table, across the floor and even splattered on the wall opposite. Most of us in the room had not ducked in time and wore at least some of it. Our Yellow Eyed penguin had eaten very well indeed.
Thankfully after loosing its stomach contents it finally drifted into sleep and the vet was able to finish the job well. With feet stitched and bandaged we placed our groggy penguin back in the large cardboard box and guiltily leaving them to clean up the mess wished our hero and guests a merry Christmas as by now it was well and truly Christmas morning.
I did send this penguin through to Christchurch to my wonderful Rehab friends Christina and Thomas as it did require vet attention at regular intervals Of course they could get it to a vet so much easier than me and are funded by the Department of Conservation so have their vet fees covered. Once healed it was released back at the bay.
I really do not know how it fared. It either healed so well it had no limp at all or it never came back. I certainly can not pick it out from the rest.
These are just a few of the more memorable birds we have had in care. We do rehab many penguins, mostly little Penguins, but sometimes Yellow Eye Penguins and even occasionally a Crested Penguin. Most are sent off to sea successfully.
Of course we know many of the Little Penguin chicks we rehab will not make it. There is only a 50% chance a penguin will make it through the first year at sea so odds are our rehab birds face those same odds, but 50% of birds that would not have made it at all does increase the odds over all. It makes us feel better too even if it does cost us the earth. Imported frozen anchovies don’t come cheap.
Penguins in our garden (rehabilitated penguins going for a walk)
Swimming time (allow the penguins to oil up their feathers)
Releasing an adult
2 chicks ready to go (Typical White flittered and Southern Blue)
Trying to release Yappy Wiggle
Still trying to release Yappy Wiggle
Yellow Eyed Penguin foot stitched
Waiting for the stitches to get removed, the penguin enjoy a 5 star hotel and easy food