When one Australian couple was just out taking a stroll near Queensland’s Gold Coast in 2012, they didn’t expect their day to get so unusually… aquatic. That’s when they spotted a creature that definitely had no business being where it was: a penguin.
The couple caught sight of the white and blue bird swimming in a small estuary, and were shocked to see the bird so far out of its habitat. How did this little guy get there? The answer, the couple soon discovered, was far more sinister than they’d imagined.
The couple realized something strange was happening when they noticed the penguin was struggling in the water. Based on its petite size, they thought it might be a baby that had gotten lost — it wasn’t.
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It was actually a species known as “fairy” penguins due to its adorably small size. They’re found along the coasts of southern Australia, but the couple still found it odd that there was one lonesome, jittery penguin in the estuary.
And just when the couple thought the situation reached its peak weirdness, they witnessed the little penguin get chased out of the water by some predator and then chased back in by a dog. The poor creature was really having a rough day.
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Worried about the frightened fairy penguin, who wound up hiding under the Southport pier, they whipped out their phones and Googled “lost penguin,” hoping to find an article regarding a missing penguin nearby.
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And, well, it looked like a certain marine park was missing a little tuxedo bird. Australia’s Sea World on the Gold Coast had been searching for one of their little penguins, named Dirk. The missing Dirk was one of the park’s 29 little penguins.
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“They heard a scuffle in the water, and this penguin came out onto the sand,” said Trevor Long, Sea World’s director of marine sciences. The couple was simply in the right place at the right time.
You may be wondering how a popular oceanarium and theme park actually lost one of its precious animals, but the reasoning behind Dirk’s mishap is more sinister than one would think. Dirk was just minding his business with his little penguin buds before being rudely interrupted.
Though you’d assume Dirk must’ve escaped after some careless mistake made by a keeper, the penguin was actually kidnapped from the little vivarium he called home. Who would do such a thing?
Three men — aged at 18, 20 and 21 — broke into Sea World one night in April of 2012, took a dip in the dolphin exhibit, and then snatched seven-year-old Dirk before booking it out of there.
Clearly Sea World needed better security. Sea World’s spokeswoman Renee Soutar relayed that this jarring animal theft was the first in the history of the park, which opened in 1971.
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And these three troublemakers would’ve gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for the meddling kids (AKA one member of the public) who discovered the trio’s gloating Facebook posts, which conveniently detailed all of their aquatic crimes.
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The men were charged with trespassing, stealing, and unlawfully keeping a protected animal. Allegedly they even confessed to the police that they set Dirk free in the Broadwater, which is known for being shark-infested.
So yes, the predator that chased Dirk out of the water was almost definitely a shark (cue the Jaws instrumentals). Considering Dirk was part of a breeding colony and had never experienced life in the wild, the whole ordeal terrified him.
“Had we not got him it wouldn’t have been a good situation at all in the long term for Dirk,” Trevor explained. From there, they had to get Dirk back to his lover ASAP.
“These penguins do mate for life and that’s why it was so important to get this bird back,” Trevor said. Dirk’s mate, Peaches, was patiently waiting for him at home, though she must’ve been worried sick!
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Considering that penguin species residing in the wild are constantly at risk of being eaten alive by predators, such as leopard seals, fur seals, sharks, and whales, they don’t make it back home to the nest all too often. This was almost the case for Dirk.
“He was extremely dishevelled, he was quite exhausted last night after we did catch him but … he’s settled down well,” Trevor relayed of Dirk’s welfare after the incident. Poor Dirk was put through the ringer.
After Sea World rescued their missing child, Dirk then spent the night being closely watched by the park’s veterinarians. After he suffered a kidnapping and was almost eaten alive, Dirk had truly been to hell and back. At least he was finally safe and sound, as well as reunited with his dear Peaches.
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Though Dirk’s wild story had a happy ending, not all animal escapes end so blissfully, as England’s Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens employees faced a gut-wrenching decision when one of its predatory mammals made a swift getaway.
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Founded in 1970, the Cotswold Wildlife Park in Bradwell Grove, England, served to give people with a passion for all things nature a place to commune. Over the past 47 years, it accrued one of the largest collections of zoo animals.
Ember and Ash, both Eurasian wolves born in Sweden, arrived at the wildlife park in October of 2016. The staff had brought the two wolves in to become part of the zoo’s community and to hopefully start a program to breed more.
The two wolves lived at the wildlife park happily for several months. Then, one day in July of 2017, visitors to the Cotswold Wildlife Park were warned to stay indoors, as Ember had managed to escape from her enclosure. How the zookeepers reacted, however, has people absolutely furious…
Such Eurasian wolves, who also go by Canis lupus lupus, typically come from Scandinavian countries. They are a massive draw to zoos like the Cotswold Wildlife Park, because people rarely have a chance to see them up close and in a controlled environment.
So, it was an incredible success for Cotswold when they brought Ember and Ash to the park. They had high hopes that the young wolves would breed early on, and that they would be able to continue to grow their pack.
The staff at Cotswold Wildlife Park knew that they’d have to be patient, but much to their great pleasure, Ash and Ember quickly forged a strong bond. Just a couple months after arriving, Ember birthed five wolf pups, who were the first to be born at the park. Still, trouble lurked on the horizon.
Like all wolves, these five cubs were absolutely dependent on Ember, as they were born both deaf and blind. It took them nearly two weeks just to open their eyes for the first time. Though they eventually weaned off of her milk, the pups still needed their mom to care for them and to teach them to eat.
Then, when the cubs were just 10 weeks old, Ember managed to sneak out of her enclosure. An alert was immediately issued to all staff and visitors. The staff hoped to have her back in her proper section of the park shortly… but could they guarantee they’d find her without something awful happening? She was a wild animal, after all!
The park immediately looked into how Ember could’ve managed to escape. No doors were left open or unlocked. Moments later, they realized there’d been an issue with the electric fence surrounding her enclosure: the voltage reader and the energizer weren’t working properly.
The zookeepers were also sure to alert the visitors that, even though they’d been asked to stay indoors, they were never in any real danger. In fact, Ember had never made it into any areas frequented by the public. Thankfully, not long after, they found the mother wolf near a highway!
The zookeepers immediately began trying to tranquilize the mother wolf. Ember, however, managed to elude them. In that moment, staff members from the wildlife park had to make an incredibly hard decision.
Since wolves are typically regarded as incredibly dangerous, the zookeepers had no choice but to shoot Ember. The zoo said in a press release: “Under the Zoo Licensing Act, if a category one animal escapes, you have no option but to euthanize. A decision which, as you can imagine, was devastating.”
Still, the zookeepers have received major backlash after making the necessary decision to shoot and kill Ember. Dr. Daniel Allen, an animal geographer, took to Twitter: “Appears to be another example of a British zoo which doesn’t value the lives of those in their care,” he said.
A member of the wildlife community and filmmaker Anneka Svenska also spoke out in opposition of the zookeepers’ choice to kill the mother wolf. “Ember was a mum to pups, and you shot her instead of tranquilizing her?” she questioned.
The Cotswold Wildlife Park since released a couple statements, in which they made an attempt to defend their difficult decision. They claimed that fearing for the visitor’s safety after trying to unsuccessfully tranquilize Ember gave them reason to euthanize her.
Since Ember’s tragic end, many animal activists have reached out, asking for an update on the cubs and Ash. “All five cubs are doing well. Eating well and growing well. Thank you for your concern,” a spokesperson from the Cotswold Wildlife Park said to reporters in an interview.
The wildlife park has since shifted its focus to the lives of Ash and the five wolf cubs. They’re now approaching their care for these animals with a hands-off style, in accordance with the European Captive Breeding Program’s rules.
Still, despite the fact that the cubs lost their mother in such a tragic manner, the zookeepers looked forward to developing the cubs at the park. They claim that they’d already weaned the cubs off of Ember, and Ash still had a good relationship with them. Mostly, they’ve learned to fend for themselves.
Now, the issue at the wildlife park has been either fixed or replaced with new versions of the same equipment. The zoo hopes it can ensure that another wolf escape will not happen in the future, at any given point in time.
The public is hoping that, while under the care of the zoo, the five cubs will be taken care of in a professional and safe manner. Let’s just hope that they can get along after losing their mother the way they did!