It will cost an estimated $30,000 to return Happy Feet the emperor penguin to the wild, Wellington Zoo says.
The young penguin won global fame when he turned up on Peka Peka Beach, north of Wellington, last month, about 3000km from his normal Antarctic home. He has since had various operations at Wellington Zoo to remove sand, sticks and rocks from his stomach - eaten while on the beach.
He has made a good recovery and the zoo and Department of Conservation (DOC) were looking at returning him to the wild in mid to late August, zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker told NZPA today.
This would likely involve transporting him from Wellington to Bluff, either by air or in a refrigerated truck, then taking him on a fishing boat to a point past Stewart Island, where he would be released to start his 3000km swim home.
It was estimated to cost about $30,000 to hire the boat and to cover other expenses involved in getting the penguin back to the wild, Ms Baker said.
"It's just a ball park figure, because we haven't contracted anyone to do it... We've been taking to a few different people. DOC mostly have been in contact with a few different options in terms of boats and things like that."
The cost of keeping him at the zoo, including food and ice, would total about $10,000, she said.
The zoo had already raised $18,000 which had covered the cost of his upkeep and some of his trip home, she said. It continued to raise donations to hopefully raise the remaining $22,000 for getting him home.
Happy Feet may have also increased the number of visitors to the zoo, she said.
When he had a recent procedure at the zoo's vet clinic on display about 1600 people visited the zoo that day, up from the usual 1100, Ms Baker said.
"We've had good visitation and some of that can be attributed to our increased profile, but visitors can't actually come and see him unless there's a procedure."