The wayward Emperor penguin that washed up onto the shore of New Zealand's North Island in June has finally received a bit of good news: he's headed home to Antarctica.
Dubbed "Happy Feet," the penguin captured the hearts of the world. We watched as he ambled around on Peka Peka Beach near Wellington. We laughed and marveled at how the silly bird could have gotten so lost that he ended up some 2000 miles away from his Antarctic home. We cringed as he impulsively ate twigs and sand, getting sick and undergoing multiple surgeries, including an endoscopy with the head of gastroenterology at a Wellington hospital.
Then came the news that he may never be able to go home because he would need a special permit from the Foreign Affairs and Trade Ministry's Antarctic policy unit.
See, the Antarctic Treaty says that no living bird can be taken to Antarctica due to a risk of disease. Scientists feared that if Happy Feet returned, he would pass on some unknown disease to all of his friends.
Like all pressing government issues, New Zealand set up a penguin advisory committee with a panel of experts to determine the fate of Happy Feet.
So, when the news came that the beloved penguin would be shipped back to sub-Antarctic waters later this month on a scientific research vessel, Happy Feet fans across the globe took a collective sigh of relief.
Only the second wayward penguin on record to swim up on the New Zealand coast, Happy Feet has spent his post-op days at the Wellington Zoo. During this past week's record snow storm, he even got a chance to play outside in a more natural habitat.
Wellington Zoo Chief Executive Karen Fifield said the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) ship Tangaroa would set sail from Wellington on August 29 with the penguin aboard.
"This is an excellent result for everyone involved, and for the penguin, and is a great example of organizations working together for the best outcome," Fifield said in a statement.
"The NIWA team are looking forward to having this extra special guest onboard the vessel with us for the journey. Happy Feet has captured the hearts of New Zealanders and people across the world, and we're pleased to be able to help safely return him to the Southern Ocean," research manager Rob Murdoch added.
He will be released four days into the voyage near Campbell Island, which is within the normal feeding range of Emperor penguins.
While on board, Happy Feet will have around the clock veterinarian care and will be housed in a "cold and comfortable" crate. He will be fitted with a satellite tracking device before he is released, so scientists - and the admiring public - can track his journey back home.
Want to catch up with the famous penguin? You can watch a live feed of Happy Feet HERE!