The Catlins is a rugged area on the South Island that features a scenic coastal landscape and dense temperate rainforest, both of which harbour many endangered species of birds, most notably the illusive and rare yellow eyed penguin. Well I should have bought a lottery ticket the day we visited the colony because as soon as we stepped onto the beach we were confronted by one penguin that gave us a pretty convincing evil eye for disturbing him. Unperturbed however, we watched in fascination for an hour as he went about his business, and then we departed for Purakaunui Bay where we were going to camp for the evening.
After setting up we went for a walk along yet another stunningly beautiful beach making sure we kept our distance from, and from in-between the bull Fur seals and their cows. At the end of the beach where the sand met the boulders we saw two gentlemen staring at something and walked over to see what was capturing their interest. Unbelievably it was another yellow eyed penguin! As we got closer however, we saw that something wasn’t quite right and at about 20 feet away we saw the blood on its chest. It was just standing still on the sand in front of the boulders, in shock. I said out loud we have to do something, but none of us knew penguin first aid and there was no cell coverage to make a call.
One of the gentlemen said in a pot induced slur, “it’s the birds karma man, it’s his fate dude”, in an attempt to salve his conscious.
We watched for a few more minutes, feeling hopeless and useless and then the poor little fellow keeled over and did a beak plant against the bolder. At that moment I said to Sharleen we can’t just watch it die, so let’s do what we can. It was obvious it was cold and would not survive if left unprotected on the beach, so we began pulling grass from the shore and layered it around him to build a massive nest. It cautiously watched us as we approached and worked. Intuitively it knew we were trying to help and he never once showed fear or aggression. As we were finishing the nest he actually stop shivering and closed his eyes. We did what we could, said a little prayer that it would survive and left.
The next morning I saw a ranger walking outside so I quickly got out of our camper and told him about the penguin. He said he would contact a conservationist immediately. Ten minutes later a lady in a 4 wheel drive drove up to us. She asked if I was the guy with the wounded penguin, I said ‘yes’, she said ‘hop in’, and we raced across the river and over the beach to where Sharleen and I left him the night before. Jumping out of the truck I showed the conservationist where he was and within minutes she had him wrapped up in her fleece jacket and got back into her truck. I said ‘go, I’ll walk back’, and off she drove.
An hour later she returned to say that the vet had our buddy stitched up, on antibiotics, an IV, he was stable and that he would survive. She also said he was about a kilo light for his size, so they would keep him at the rescue centre for a few weeks to fatten him up?
Sharleen and I joked that after a few weeks at the spa for rehabilitating Penguins our buddy, which we named Perry, wouldn’t want to return to the wild. In my best penguin imitation I would say to Sharleen,’ hey doc, my back is still killing me, don’t know if I’m quite ready to go yet!’
I got to thinking about the young man’s comment that it was Perry’s fate to die. In Asia many people fall victim to what they perceive is their fate, yet fate is only a perspective. To the young man it was Perry’s fate to die, to Sharleen and I it was Perry’s fate that we should happen to come along and save him!