Happy Feet with nowhere to stand

Photo: Ross Giblin, The Dominion Post

It is funny how something as frustrating as taking a wrong turn can demonstrate so clearly the good and bad in people. If you haven’t heard, on Monday afternoon an Emperor Penguin from Antarctica managed to take a 7,000 kilometre detour and arrived on Peka Peka Beach in New Zealand. It is one of only two birds known to survive such a trek through, arguably, some of the worlds most treacherous waters.

The thing that strikes me most about this wayward juvenile is not his endurance nor the lonely figure he cuts against the shoreline, but instead the way that his presence alone can say so much about humankind. Nicknamed Happy Feet, after the Oscar winning movie about a dancing penguin, the community has gone above and beyond to protect him.  For instance, last Wednesday night a bunch of drunken youths were reported to be ‘making a bloody nuisance of themselves’ near Happy Feet. A group of residents voluntarily set up an all-night guard, in the freezing New Zealand winter, to prevent harm from coming to him.

The next day Kapiti Coast District Council assigned a security guard to prevent spectators getting too close with their cars and flashing cameras. The council has also blocked vehicle access to the beach for the coming weekend, predicting an onslaught of bird-watching fanatics and general sightseers. They have also scheduled staff to make regular trips to check on the monochromatic visitor.

Since Happy Feets condition has deteriorated, becoming extremely lethargic and displaying signs of overheating, various organisations have united to formulate long-term plans for the young man. There is no way of getting him back to his home during winter (too dangerous), they do not have the facilities to home him in New Zealand and while they could send him to an Australian zoo it is unlikely that he will be able to integrate with the other species. It is an undertaking fraught with complications yet they continue to exhaust all options to give Happy Feet the best chance of survival.

Hearing the plight of Happy Feet I can’t help but think of the many refugees, be they environmentally or politically driven, that are also arriving by sea. By no fault of their own they are stuck in a situation that seems to have no happy ending. Imagine if we treated them with an ounce of the compassion that these residents have treated Happy Feet? If we recognised how dangerous and exhausting their journey was– especially if they were young like our penguin hero. If we at least considered finding them a place to belong even though it may be a long and complicated process. If we decided not to just wipe our hands of them by sending them to another location, knowing full well the uncertain future that awaited them there. If we protected something for the sole reason that we can recognise it needs protecting, without question of whether it is worthy of the “charity” you bestow upon it.

If Australians were birds we would undoubtedly be Emus. We were born, through no design of our own, taller than other birds. Even though we are exactly the same; with two legs, two feet and two useless wings that don’t fly, we consider the fact that we tower over some others as a measure of worth, power and entitlement. Like the emu we are renowned for being silly. And similar to the emu when we are met with something confronting we can think of no better solution than to run away.

Who would have thought a little bird, with happy feet and no voice, could say so much about people?

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Mark Ehlers says:

    Brilliant article, Em. It’s amazing how the way we treat animals can be so far and beyond the way that we treat other humans. Some really great points raised.

  2. Mark Ehlers says:

    PS: apparently Happy Feet has been transported by cold storage to a chiller at the nearest Zoo. Hopefully a happy ending in site. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10734211

  3. Em says:

    Thanks for your comment Mark – i really appreciate it. 🙂 Personally I think the way we treat both humans and animals can be pretty revolting.There was a great article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day comparing refugees to factory farm animals – I hope people did agree that there is a similarity.

    Thanks Mark – we love getting feedback here at Eco Empire.

  4. salbo81 says:

    I am pleased that you mentioned in your reply to Mark that animals are treated poorly. If we treated humans the way we treat so many animals we would make Hitler look like a saint. Particularly factory farmed animals. If humans could show the same compassion for farmed animals as they did for Happy Feet the world would be a better place – and vegan. So much effort has gone into saving Happy Feet (which I love!) – but I wonder how many of them went home and ate chicken for dinner? Why save one bird yet cruelly slaughter another? Why is the death of one bird a tragedy and the death of another dinner? Happy Feet has proven that we can be compassionate – now we need to keep it up and love all animals, especially the ones unfortunately labelled dinner – they are just as worthy.

  5. Mark Ehlers says:

    Sal, I agree that there are discrepencies in the way that we treat some animals over others, as in your example. However, I have to disagree that straight out “everyone should be vegan” is the answer. Quite frankly it’s unrealistic and somewhat idealistic. Yes, the way that factory farmed animals are treated is attrocious and needs to change. Cutting it out altogether doesn’t work, as we have seen in the banning of live exports to Indonesia. Yes, we changed the fate of some for “the greater good”, however is leaving these animals stranded on the docks with limited supplies of food and water any better than sending them to the approved slaughter facilities? I think not. We are just delaying the inevitible. Fact of the matter is, humans eat other animals. We need to look into better, more appropriate ways of producing this meat whilst keeping in mind the ultimate sacrifice of the animals used for our food. Thus, treating the animals with the respect that they deserve and finding better ways of doing things is going to be much more effective in getting our practices to a more acceptable point than saying “just don’t eat meat” is ever going to. The latter merely alienated the masses whereas baby-steps is more likely to solve a heap more problems in the short to medium term than a blanket ban on the production of meat altogether. The concept of world-wide veganism is just going to make those industries dig their heels in and keep doing the same thing rather than changing for the better.

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