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The Search for Buddy the Kidnapped Penguin Continues

Two students stole and released an endangered African penguin from an Oceanarium. The problem is Buddy doesn’t have the skills to survive

African penguins at the Cincinnati Zoo (Wikimedia Commons/LT Shears)
smithsonian.com

All points bulletin—if anyone sees an African penguin that answers to the name Buddy, please report it immediately to Bayworld Oceanarium in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. According to Jenna Etheridge at News24, two men broke into the facility and penguin-napped Buddy last week, driving him two miles down the road to Pollock Beach, where they set him loose, letting the bird slip into the Southern Indian Ocean.

It’s a noble gesture straight out of Free Willy. The only problem is, as a bird raised in captivity, Buddy likely does not have the skills to make it in the ocean. “He is completely ill-equipped to survive in the wild. He will have no idea where he is,” Dylan Bailey, manager of Bayworld tells the BBC. “Luckily, he was a very healthy penguin—actually quite fat—so he has a good few weeks of reserves.”

The park estimates he could survive about three weeks, if a predator doesn’t get to him first.

The BBC reports that CCTV footage caught Buddy’s abductors in action. Two students appearing to be in their 20s can be seen climbing into a pool, grabbing Buddy and wrapping him in a shirt before putting him in the trunk of their car.

After reports of Buddy’s dire predicament hit the media, the unidentified perpetrators contacted Bayworld via their lawyer, who told CNN the two had been drinking when they decided to free a penguin. “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,” reports Etheridge. “After realizing the severity of the incident they had decided to come forward. … 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.”

Even if Buddy survives, the stunt has had dire consequences. The BBC reports that at the time he was nabbed, Buddy and his mate Francis had just hatched two chicks. One of those chicks has since died and Francis is unable to leave the nest because Buddy is not there to relieve her. “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 chicks by themselves,” Bailey tells Etheridge.

Buddy’s disappearance is also a setback for the African or Jackass penguin endemic to Southern Africa, which was declared endangered in 2010 since its population has plummeted by 80 percent since the 1950s. Bayworld is one of the major breeding centers for the animal’s recovery. “They are monogamous animals. They pair for life. If we can’t get Buddy back, we will try to pair [Francis] with another bird, but it may not be successful,” Bailey says.

The BBC reports staff have scoured dozens of miles of coastline looking for Buddy, and they hope he will waddle ashore before he gets too weak. 

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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