New Zealand's farewell to lost penguin Happy Feet

Happy Feet has been fitted with a tracking device

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Hundreds of people have visited Wellington Zoo to bid farewell to an emperor penguin who washed up on a New Zealand beach in June.

Nicknamed Happy Feet, he is being returned to Antarctica on Monday after recovering from surgery to remove 3kg (6.6lb) of sand from his stomach.

The bird is thought to have eaten the sand, having mistaken it for the snow penguins swallow to stay hydrated.

He is to be transported four days out to sea by a fisheries survey vessel.

Happy Feet, named after the popular animated film about a tap-dancing penguin chick, has been fitted with a tracking device so the zoo can monitor his progress.

'Fish milkshakes'

His unexpected appearance on Peka Peka Beach - north of Wellington and 3,000km (1,860 miles) from his Antarctic colony - stunned wildlife experts who said he was only the second emperor ever recorded in New Zealand.

Hopes he would make his own way back were dashed when he became ill and his subsequent recovery, on a diet of "fish milkshakes", has captured the public's imagination.

The zoo's veterinary science manager Lisa Argilla said: "Everyone's been really curious to see what happens. It was touch-and-go there for a while but he's doing really well now."

A webcam set up in his small, ice-filled room at the zoo attracted an online following of more than 120,000 people.

A public campaign raised more than NZ$20,000 (£11,000) towards the costs of his recovery.

However, the total spent saving and returning him is estimated to be at least three times that. Some, like Wellington's Victoria University biologist Wayne Linklater, writing in Wellington's Dominion Post, have questioned the use of money on an animal whose species is not endangered.

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