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Oamaru’s urban penguin population made national headlines this week, after staff at the Criterion Hotel were handed a little penguin chick by a tourist.

On Saturday, the Criterion Hotel posted to its Facebook page: “Leave the penguins alone people! They know what they are doing so leave them to it! Had a tourist hand me this at the pub today.”

The tourists handed the penguin over once they learned they were in violation of the Wildlife Act for removing a protected species, an action punishable by a $10,000 fine.

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony science and environmental manager Dr Philippa Agnew said the bird still had down around its head when it was taken in at the colony.

However, “it lost those pretty fast”.

“We weighed it – it was just over 900gm, which is OK, it’s heavy enough,” she said.

“We decided to give it a day or so just to see how close to fledging it was. And so to do that, I put it in the pool to see if its feathers were waterproof – and it was fine.

“And it seemed to love the water, which you hope that they do, being penguins.”

Colony staff had picked up chicks in “random places” in the past, but it was not common for chicks to stray too far from their nests, Dr Agnew said.

She praised the actions of Criterion Hotel staff who contacted the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony immediately.

“Knowing that it’s an offence under the Wildlife Act, that’s a good thing for locals to know.

“Tourists, that’s a bit more of a challenge, to teach them about those sorts of things.

“It’s not actually acceptable for people to pick up wild animals.

“Generally if people find wildlife that they are worried about they should call Doc [Department of Conservation] or us first.” – Otago Daily Times