One of New Zealand's top surgeons volunteered to operate on the young penguin from Antarctica that appeared in the country last week and has since captivated the world.
Surgeon John Wyeth, who normally operates on humans, performed a two-hour surgery on the penguin, nicknamed Happy Feet after the 2006 movie, on Monday, AFP reports.
Wyeth and his six-person team performed an endoscopy to remove twigs, stones and sand that Happy Feet had eaten on the beach. The debris subsequently clogged his gut. The team put a camera down the penguin's throat and then looped a line around the debris.
"It (was) a memorable experience," Wyeth, the head of gastroenterology at Wellington Hospital and a past president of the New Zealand Society of Gastroenterology, told AFP.
He said the surgery took longer than normal because he was not familiar with the anatomy of a penguin.
Lisa Argilla, manager of veterinary science at Wellington Zoo, told CNN that Happy Feet is recovering and the procedure successfully removed "much of the gunk that was in his stomach."
The Emperor penguin was first spotted in New Zealand last Monday by a woman walking her dog on Peka Peka beach.
Experts think the penguin, estimated to be 10 months old, was born in Antarctica and got lost when he went looking for food. He ended up swimming 2,000 miles away to New Zealand. He is the first Emperor penguin to be seen in New Zealand in the wild in 44 years.
The penguin was brought to the Wellington Zoo after he began to show signs of sickness. Veterinarians and conservation officials became concerned with the penguin's health after seeing it eat sand and small sticks of driftwood.
Treatment by one of New Zealand's top surgeons comes less than a week after wildlife officials said Happy Feet would not be able to survive in New Zealand but should be left to die because they could not bring him back to Antarctica.
"We are going to let nature take its course," Peter Simpson, a program manager for New Zealand's Department of Conservation, told the AP last Wednesday. "It roamed here naturally. What is wrong with that?"
Wyeth rejected the idea of leaving Happy Feet to die in New Zealand.
"I think the important thing in this world is humanity and caring, and if we don't show that, it doesn't reflect very well on our society," he said to AFP.
If Happy Feet recovers fully, it looks like he will have options. New Zealand investment adviser Gareth Morgan offered to take him by boat to Antarctica next February when he leads an expedition there.
He told Radio New Zealand that a sea passage would enable Happy Feet to jump ship if he saw other penguins en route.
SeaWorld in San Diego has also offered to help and take the bird.