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They've been using penguins to sell crisps to Kiwis for decades - and now Bluebird says it is looking at how it can help the sickly stray Happy Feet.

Group brands manager Lisa King said that assisting the bird, which is at Wellington Zoo, "was definitely something we've considered, but at this stage we haven't finalised".

It was not yet known what role Bluebird could play, but Ms King said helping the penguin was an obvious step for the company to take.

The emperor penguin is likely to face a long swim home.

An advisory group convened by the Department of Conservation yesterday said its preferred option was to release the bird in the Southern Ocean, southeast of New Zealand. This was the northern edge of the known area where juvenile emperor penguins lived.

Happy Feet, whose gender is not known yet, sparked international interest when it arrived unexpectedly at Peka Peka Beach, 60km north of Wellington, more than 3000km from its Antarctic birthplace, early last week.

It has since fallen ill after eating sand and sticks and was operated on at Wellington Zoo this week.

Zoo spokeswoman Kate Baker said the bird's condition had improved and new x-rays showed it was passing sand naturally.

The penguin was kept in isolation at the zoo's hospital, The Nest.

"The room has airconditioning and there's shaved ice and big blocks of ice as well to keep it around 2C.

"The plan from now on is to let it rest, feed it and x-ray it again on Friday or Saturday to see how much sand has passed," Ms Baker said.

Penguins usually eat snow for hydration.

Ms Baker said Happy Feet would not be released until it was deemed well enough to have a reasonable chance of survival. Until then, it would stay at Wellington Zoo.

It is only the second emperor penguin known to have landed in New Zealand. The first one was found at Southland's Oreti Beach in 1967.