Penguin Rehab

Diary of an Escape Artist

Every once in a while, you come across a bird too smart for his own good, like Cape Cormorant 138. Known to all as ‘the escape artist’ this bird wriggled, squeezed and flew his way to freedom several times a week. The first day I met him, he escaped from the covered pool by jumping onto a crate and pushing through a hole in the netting, despite being supervised by two people. The following day he escaped from his pen by squeezing under the wall into the adjacent, empty pen and pushing open the door. When we were doing the morning meds, he jumped into an empty box without being put there, as if he knew it was his ticket to freedom (we took the birds out in boxes and transferred them to the pool so we could clean). Creepy.

Moreover, he also seemed to know exactly when he was supposed to come back. After flying around the center the whole day and chilling with the resident cormorants in home pen, he landed by the door to his pen at precisely 3:45, just in time for the 4 pm meds. It was still a mission getting him back inside (he ran around the outside of the pen a few times and ducked under the open door) but it was if he knew. But that’s not even the half of it; it got so interesting I started keeping a diary of his escaping escapades. Below is his story.

Incident 2: Pool Issues (Again)

Well, CC 138 escaped from the pool again today. Twice. Despite having two watchmen on guard both times. The second time no one even saw him get out (just…how?). I freaked out because I thought I lost a bird, but thank goodness, no. We found him in home pen, standing on one foot so as to hide his tag under his feathers, as if he knew it would help him blend in with the resident birds [Find him in the image above]. That’s scary genius right there. #Respect

Incident 3: A Battle of Wits: The war with 138 has now reached literary proportions.

Needless to say, 138 escaped yet again. The first time was through a net, two carpets and a tarp; the second time from a folded box. I was over-confident in my tarp set up. If I had stood there, I could’ve caught him as he came out, but he took advantage of my arrogance.

Keeping him in the pool is becoming a rising obsession, now hovering at the level of Captain Ahab’s in Moby Dick. For one thing, the less he swims the longer he will stay in rehab, so it’s for his own good. On the other hand, it’s really annoying being bested by a bird.

And I was so close this time. Tantalizingly close. I wonder if I’ll ever manage it before he’s released. In any event, I’ve decided to call him Moby. After all, some days he’s a real d…

Incident 4: Manic Penguin Body Guards: Moby employed a wingman and it was ridiculous.

Today I was tasked with catching Moby. He wasn’t caught yesterday evening and therefore missed his veterinary check-up this morning. The vet, who is as keen as the rest of us to see the back of him, sent me on a cormorant quest in the hope of an afternoon examination. So there I went, tiptoeing into the sandy shores of the restricted home pen, armed with a soggy fishtail and the feeble hope that I could somehow use it to coax the evil mastermind into my arms.

Moby sat on a rock, hiding his tag as usual, looking mildly interested in the fish. We were within a meter of each other before he took a passing glance and casually flew off to the other side of home pen. Hanging onto the thread of hope that he might want the fish, I strolled toward him when BAM, out of the bushes barrels a penguin, circling my feet and biting my overalls like I was the only chew toy in the pound. I walked a bit farther away, but he charged, running between my legs, biting and slapping my calf with his flipper (which packs a painful punch that’s left a throbbing bruise).

I heard from a staff member that the manic penguin, a permanent resident of the center who goes by the name of Stripey or Zippy or something I care not remember, is known for aggressive behavior. It would be all fine and well, if not for the glint in 138’s eye as he watched from across the pool while Crazy’s assault forced my retreat, sandy crocs and fishtail in hand.

I swear I could see him smiling.

Incident 5: The last run-in

Moby has been moved to the aviary and, for good or ill, is scheduled for release tomorrow. Today I (lucky me) was tasked with cleaning around him.

Cleaning the aviary by one’s lonesome is always a great feat. Crates and towels that serve as perches must be removed; the pool must be drained and scrubbed. The layer of carpets and mats lining the inside must also be removed, cleaned, disinfected and changed, all while anywhere from 10 to 100 birds run around squawking at you for getting in their space. It’s an ordeal that involves many a trip through the squeaking gate with a wheelbarrow, and that did not go unnoticed by our resident Houdini.

The first few passes went without incident. Moby sat at the upper back of the aviary minding his own business. By the time I entered for the fourth time hauling dirty mats from the pen, he knew something was up. He parked himself on the perch less than a meter from the gate…watching. I, however, was not going to let him out so easily. Having so many failed, previous attempts, this was my last chance to keep Moby where he was supposed to be, and I was determined. Thus began an hour-long game of Moby flying toward the gate and me closing it as quickly as possible. At one point he even landed on a fold in the door, but try as he might, I would not let this bird budge. To be fair, given he wasn’t being forced to swim I don’t think he was trying his hardest.

Then, the unexpected happened. Moby opened his mouth and started panting the hyperventilated pant of a stressed, overheated bird. I hurriedly refilled the pool in case he was hot, but he didn’t seem interested in water. I’m not sure if it was the crisis of knowing he couldn’t get out or dramatic theatrics to see if I would fold, but I must say, he put on a show. I almost opened the door and willingly let him fly out. Almost.

But he stayed; the aviary was clean; and after gaining a single victory after weeks of frustrating losses, I waved goodbye to the unforgettable Cape Cormorant 138. A few days later, the rehab center said goodbye to me.