Cape Town – Two men snatched Buddy the Penguin from a Port Elizabeth oceanarium last week because they wanted him to be in the wild, Bayworld said on Tuesday.
His carers were hoping someone would spot the vulnerable penguin in the ocean, so he could be reintroduced to his mate Francis and their remaining chick.
Buddy’s absence was first noticed when staff could not find him for his monthly medical examination last Thursday.
The bird’s much-publicised absence led to the men’s lawyer contacting Bayworld to say they wished to take responsibility. The lawyer and the men met Bayworld’s management and curators.
“The individuals stated that they did not agree with the penguins being kept in captivity and that their intention was to capture and then release a penguin back into the wild,” Bayworld said in a statement.
Best interests of the animal
After realising the severity of the incident, they admitted they had released the male penguin on Pollock beach, 2.8km from Bayworld, early on Wednesday morning.
Security footage showed a vehicle parking next to the oceanarium wall in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Two men were seen walking on the grounds and taking pictures with a cellphone camera before entering the penguin enclosure.
“At the time they believed they were acting in the best interests of the animals and there was never any intention to harm the bird in any way,” said Bayworld.
They would hold another meeting soon to decide on an appropriate sanction. Bayworld did not release the men’s identities.
News24 was waiting to hear whether their lawyer wished to speak to the media.
Eastern Cape police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Priscilla Naidu said they had no knowledge of anybody handing themselves over the police. Bayworld had opened a case of theft.
“It seems like the two people in the video have contacted Bayworld and are dealing directly with them. We don’t have any suspects in custody,” she said.
Bayworld would have to indicate if it wanted to withdraw its complaint, she said.
Francis and the chicks on the nest. (Werner Hills, Netwerk24)
No survival experience
Although Buddy was a very healthy penguin, he was raised in captivity and did not have the necessary experience to survive in the unfamiliar environment, Bayworld said.
“All of the penguins and seals at Bayworld are either captive-born or could not be released following stranding because they suffered debilitating injuries that would have reduced their ability to survive in the wild.”
One of Buddy and Francie’s chicks died on Monday, Netwerk24 reported. Bailey said it could possibly have been caused by Buddy’s absence.
“Penguin parents take turns looking after the chicks in the nest. There has been a lot of pressure on Francis since Buddy’s disappearance. We even had to feed her in the nest so she wouldn’t have to leave the chick by themselves,” Bailey said.
The non-profit government subsidiary educated over 120 000 pupils a year on the role of marine animals in the wild.
Marine Living Collections curator Dylan Bailey said Buddy had a tag on his flipper with the number 266. He also had a microchip, but no tracker.
“Only animals that form part of a tracking research programme get satellite trackers as these are bulky, very expensive (over R30 000) and only last about a year.”