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Baby Penguin Kidnapped from British Zoo


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

Not long ago we reported on this program that a penguin had not been abducted from the New England Aquarium. We could, of course, spend hour after hour telling you about all the animals who have not been stolen, and for obvious reasons, we don't. But there is so much urban legend attached to alleged penguin abductions--typically involving a youngster or an adult with some disability--that the aquarium in Boston felt obliged to set the record straight.

Well, now comes what's evidently some really bad news. Amazon World Zoo Park on the Isle of Wight in England evidently has experienced the theft of a baby penguin named Toga. Katherine Bright is a manager at Amazon World and joins us now by phone.

Tell us about Toga and when the penguin went missing.

Ms. KATHERINE BRIGHT (Manager, Amazon World Zoo Park): Well, the last time we saw Toga was on Saturday evening with his parents. And on Sunday morning, we discovered that he was no longer in the enclosure.

SIEGEL: And do you, in fact, know that he was stolen from the zoo park?

Ms. BRIGHT: Yeah. The perimeter of the enclosure is around seven feet. There was no evidence of any holes in the enclosure, and our native predators couldn't have scaled a seven-foot fence. And as far as birds of prey, our largest local native bird of prey wouldn't have been able to carry it away.

SIEGEL: But are there any footprints or any evidence of a human being being involved going inside the penguins' area?

Ms. BRIGHT: No, there's nothing. The human could have got in without actually standing on any soft ground, and our local police agree that the only way for the penguin to go missing was to have human help.

SIEGEL: Now you have put out the word that the penguin has been stolen and also that Toga, this baby penguin, is in great jeopardy.

Ms. BRIGHT: Absolutely. He's only around three and a half, four months old, and he's still being fed by his parents. So we've got an animal that, because it's being parent-reared, is quite wary of humans and won't take food from a human. The only food that he's eaten is regurgitated fish from his parents. So we judge him by his body weight of around 9 pounds that we have around five days to find him. Otherwise, he's going to be in serious trouble. And today, unfortunately, is the fourth day.

SIEGEL: Do his parents realize that he's gone, and do they--I don't want to anthropomorphize too much, but do they appear to miss him?

Ms. BRIGHT: Well, they're moping around a little bit. They're checking out the other nest boxes that we have in the enclosure. They're also a lot more vocal than normal. And this species of penguin actually brays like a donkey, hence its name a jackass penguin.

SIEGEL: These are South African jackass penguins.

Ms. BRIGHT: Yeah. And they are calling a lot more often than normal, which we believe is them trying to call the baby back to the flock.

SIEGEL: Well, the Isle of Wight is a long way off from the US, but just in case, why don't you give us a description of the bird?

Ms. BRIGHT: Well, he's about 16 to 18 inches tall, weighs around 9 pounds, is predominantly brown with a white chest, black feet. And, obviously, the braying noise is like a donkey's. So if anybody hears that and there's no donkeys round about, then they need to take a closer look.

SIEGEL: Now other institutions that have not experienced the theft of a penguin, but have experienced these incredibly widely circulating stories of penguins being stolen, attribute some of their most recent popularity to the movie "The March of the Penguins."

Ms. BRIGHT: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Do you think that's at work here in any way? Do you suspect the movie in some way?

Ms. BRIGHT: Possibly. I mean, there's two options. He's been taken by professional people as an order. Basically, somebody said, `I want a penguin,' and they've supplied. The other option is that somebody has stolen him as some sort of sick Christmas present. Perhaps a girlfriend or a child has seen "March of the Penguins" and gone, `Aww, isn't it sweet? You know, I'd love a penguin,' and they thought, `Well, I can get you one.'

SIEGEL: Well, Katherine Bright of Amazon World on the Isle of Wight, thank you very much for telling us about the story of Toga, the young penguin who appears to have been stolen this past weekend.

Ms. BRIGHT: Thank you very much, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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