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Wayward New Zealand penguin heads home

September 5, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The pampered penguin who became a celebrity in New Zealand is finally heading home.

The emperor penguin known as "Happy Feet" is swimming south towards Antarctica. His movements are being monitored by GPS.

The penguin was released on Sunday from a research vessel, but it seemed he didn't want to go. After a gentle shove, Happy Feet eventually slid down the makeshift ramp backwards. He resurfaced about 6 feet from the boat, took a look up at the people aboard, and then disappeared beneath the surface.

The sick penguin was discovered June 20 on Peka Peka Beach in New Zealand, nearly 2,000 miles from his Antarctic feeding grounds.

Happy Feet was taken to Wellington Zoo shortly after. It took months to get him healthy and ready for the swim home.

It had been 44 years since an emperor penguin was last spotted in the wild in New Zealand.

Now that Happy Feet has been nursed back to health, zoo officials say his chances are as good as they are for any other penguin in the wild.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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