A panicked penguin was found waddling the streets of Dublin today after a gang of pranksters stole her from the city zoo.
Ten-year-old Kelli was said to be none the worse for her kidnap ordeal after three men climbed perimeter fences and snatched her from her mate Mick.
Disgusted zookeepers revealed the delicate bird, and her other half, could have died from the trauma.
Eddie O’Brien, team leader in the zoo’s east section, said the penguin was obviously traumatised when rescued but quickly settled back into her routine.
“These birds get stressed very easily when taken out of their environment. They don’t react well to and it and it could have caused a heart attack,” he said.
Gardaí said three men broke into the Phoenix Park zoo at about 8am and climbed into the enclosure.
It is believed the stunt may have been an elaborate prank to 'pick-up a penguin’ in a live internet broadcast recorded on ’penguin cam’ on the zoo’s website.
The thieves snatched the Humboldt – native to parts of South America, mainly Chile – stuffed it in a sports bag, hailed a taxi outside the zoo and fled.
Gardaíbelieve they told the taxi driver they had a rabbit in the hold-all.
While the creature was reported to be physically safe and well she was said to be severely stressed, with her keepers expressing their annoyance.
“They don‘t deal well with being handled. She was panting a little,” Mr O’Brien said.
“Her mate was also panting and would have been more stressed because he had been left alone. They bond together very strongly.
“So her mate was a little stressed and that could have caused problems – there could have been two deaths with the one being abandoned.”
Zoo staff raised the alarm after taking the morning head count in the penguin enclosure and found one of the 14 missing.
“We wish to underline our annoyance at this incident,” a zoo spokesman said.
“The welfare and health of all animals is our primary concern and this kind of incident is not frivolous and certainly not something amusing.”
It is believed the cab driver was quickly traced through a registration plate and gave gardaí information on where the three men had been dropped off.
Within a couple of hours officers from a city centre station were alerted to reports of a penguin on Rutland Street in the north inner city and found the bird at about 12.45pm.
The penguin was fitted with a microchip, like all the zoo’s animals, and it is understood this would have been used to trace the creature.
“The penguin went missing this morning at 8am but due to the security measures that are in place at Dublin Zoo and the rapid response of gardai, the penguin was soon recovered and returned,” the zoo spokesman said.
“Dublin Zoo was naturally relieved that the animal was returned safe and unharmed and back at the zoo.”
Kelli and Mick, who have yet to successfully breed, were left for the evening to bond some more in their quiet nesting area.
It is the first animal theft in Dublin Zoo’s history. Two years ago an adventurous orang-utan went on-the-run, making a bold bid for freedom after 24 years in captivity.
Maggie left her baby Mujur behind and managed to enjoy an hour on the loose wandering around in front of her enclosure but never left the zoo grounds.