Heartbreak Hotel as king penguin Elvis can't leave building
ELVIS is alive and well, but marine authorities say he can't go home.
The fellow is in a rehab centre on a windy headland in Cape St Francis and, every now and then, he throws back his head and croons his rather haunting song.
Elvis is a king penguin that washed ashore near Cape St Francis in January, many thousands of kilometres away from his home on one of the sub-Antarctic islands.
No one knows how he got here, but when Trudi Malan of the Ajubatus Marine Rehabilitation Centre in St Francis was alerted, she and a local nature conservator rescued the creature.
"I can't believe how well he's looking now. He is beautiful. My wish is to release him back home, possibly to Marion Island, but the scientists say we can't because of the risk that he will carry back diseases.
"I understand that from a scientific point they can't take that risk. But for us, it's a very emotional thing. Kings are very gregarious penguins, they breed shoulder to shoulder and they like to be with their friends," said Malan.
"And every time he calls, ah, I just want to die. He throws it back and makes this sound. It's beautiful but it's so sad."
She had hoped the penguin could hitch a ride on the Department of Environment's ship that took research teams to Marion Island, a habitat of king penguins.
Rob Crawford, an ornithologist with Marine and Coastal Management, confirmed yesterday that this was not permitted in terms of the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research.
"Any species that has been in captivity may not be released back into the Antarctic or sub-Antarctic Islands, because there is always a chance of introducing disease.
"It could be disastrous if that happened," Crawford said.
Asked if the penguin could be released off the Eastern Cape coast and left to take its chances, Crawford said he was not sure it would survive in the warm Agulhas current.
"My personal opinion is that it would be best if it could be with another captive population," Crawford said.
Malan said the Edinburgh and Zurich zoos were interested in taking on Elvis.
"The Zurich Zoo has a world specialist on king penguins. He says they've got to be with friends or they fall into depression. They have about 20 but they really wanted a female.
"The Edinburgh Zoo was interested but they can't take him because of the bird flu ban," she said
Two Oceans Aquarium is also interested in taking him for their Antarctic and Islands display, yet to be built.
"I've tried everything. Sometimes I feel if I ever found another one, I would quietly euthanise him," Malan said.