A penguin with over 1,20,000 fans on the web

Cyber hit

In this file photo, ‘Happy Feet’ , an Antarctic penguin that wound up stranded on a New Zealand beach being prepared for an X-ray at Wellington Zoo. AP

That’s how many unique visitors have logged onto a web camera monitoring his every move. Thousands more are expected to follow the updates after he’s released in the coming weeks, with feeds from a GPS tracker attached to his back posted online.

And then there’s the chatter on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.
His followers don’t seem to be bothered that Happy Feet, nicknamed after the 2006 animated movie, does little more than eat, sleep and occasionally waddle. “At 11:20 pm in New Zealand, Happy Feet was sound asleep with his left foot and flipper sticking out,” one Facebook fan wrote. “Five minutes later, he pulled in his left foot and flipper and just got up! :)” The penguin was found on June 20 on Peka Peka Beach, about 65 km northwest of Wellington and far from his Antarctic feeding grounds. He was moved four days later to the Wellington Zoo after becoming ill from eating sand, which he likely mistook for snow.

He has since gained weight and been given a clean bill of health to return to the ocean.

His unusual journey captured worldwide interest, with local TV3 station setting up a webcam on June 30 in his small, ice-filled room at the zoo. The phone calls began coming in soon after, even prompting the zoo one night to send a veterinarian to check on the penguin after the station was swamped by worried callers convinced Happy Feet had died, zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said. It turned out the penguin was sleeping.

TV3 station’s Wellington bureau chief, Gordon McBride, said he and a colleague came up with the webcam idea and the zoo agreed.

After the “great response” to the penguin’s webcam, the zoo is now considering live streaming other animals and the zoo’s medical procedures, Baker said.

The zoo raised the $10,000 through a public campaign to cover the costs of housing Happy Feet, Baker said. It has also raised about $8,000 so far for returning him to the sub-Antarctic ocean south of New Zealand—a trip that could cost up to $30,000.

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