Swimming laps for release

The injured penguin takes to the pool to rehab an injured hock

A yellow-eyed penguin is eager to catch the next flight home after a solid recovery at Massey University’s Wildbase Hospital. 

The penguin, which came to Massey on December 8 from the Otago coastline at Long Point, received lacerations to his or her hock [a joint in a hind leg], which required surgery for an infection and tendon injury. After the surgery a cast was put on to keep the leg immobilised for healing.

Supervisor wildlife technician Pauline Nijman says while they don’t know how the injuries occurred, recovery has gone well.

“It was a bit of the process, as you can’t simply pull skin over to cover the wound, as it is similar to the human hand – there’s nothing spare to pull over and there’s a lot of tendons. Just like a hand, it gets a lot of use, so keeping it immobilised for a few weeks was key.”

Since the cast’s removal, the penguin has been doing laps in the pool for conditioning. “Swimming keeps the weight off them and is ideal for reconditioning back to the wild,” says Ms Nijman.

The recovery in the new Wildbase Hospital has been made more comfortable thanks to more than one isolation room, allowing the penguin to have this own space as well as other wildlife under the Hospital’s care.

The penguin will be flown for free within the next few weeks, as part of the Department of Conservation’s deal with Air New Zealand for endangered animals.

“We do worry for them once they go back, but they belong in the wild,” says Ms Nijman.

“Things would’ve been pretty bad if the foot was left alone making the penguin vulnerable to infection and predators. We can't go along to the release, but there will be no long goodbyes or hugs, as it will likely be straight into the water and off to hunt.

“Even if it takes a while to get back into routine, the penguin has been eating us out of house and home, adding two kilograms, so there is plenty of padding there in the mean time. There’s a few things we have to manage with them coming into a new environment to make it less stressful, but free food is not one of them – salmon, kahawai, trevally and anchovies – meal time is the best part of the day.”

Ms Nijman says the gender unknown because it doesn’t effect treatment and they are not named to remind us that they are wild and we want them to stay that way, not rely on humans. “We care for them but they can’t be pets. They are wild animals and that’s the way we want to keep them and how our care is tailored.”

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