A yellow-eyed penguin thought to have had a nasty encounter with a barracuda is today winging its way back home, after a few months' convalescence with some of the country's top wildlife experts.
The hoiho was this morning boarding an Air New Zealand flight from Palmerston North to Otago, via Christchurch, ahead of its long-awaited return to the wild at Victory Beach.
Wildbase Recovery tweeted a picture of the penguin, safe in a carry cage, along with a message announcing the endangered bird was "checked in and ready for release".
This afternoon's release, to be handled by the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, would be held at the same reserve the penguin was found with injuries to its feet, tendons and flippers - believed to have been caused by a barracuda.
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The penguin's stay at Wildbase Hospital in Palmerston North included regular checks by Massey University specialist wildlife technicians, along with daily swims in a free-flowing water pool to work on its waterproofing and deeper pools to test its fitness for the wild.
The pools used have been recycled from the temporary facilities Wildbase set up opposite Tauranga's Baypark Stadium during the Rena oil spill - and are planned to be upgraded under new project plans at Wildbase.
The planned facilities include three custom-built aviaries with 16m2 recovery pools for ocean, shore, and wetland, which have been designed by specialist wildlife and zoo architects to help injured and sick seabirds regain their strength and regrow their waterproofing feathers.
Wildbase Recovery, recognised by the Department of Conservation with a 30-year permit, would allow Massey wildlife technicians to rehabilitate endangered species at Palmerston North's Victoria Esplanade.
In addition to ocean, shore and wetland birds like the yellow-eyed penguin, the world-class facility will provide temporary homes for other species such as kiwi, takahe and kaka before their release back into the wild.
The yellow-eyed penguin is considered one of the world's rarest penguin species, with a population of between just 6000 and 7000.