Video: Concern over stolen baby penguin

updated 12/21/2005 7:45:47 PM ET 2005-12-22T00:45:47

Zookeepers are struggling to stay optimistic about the fate of a baby penguin believed to have been snatched from his parents, the zoo’s manager said Wednesday.

Toga, a 3-month-old jackass penguin, was discovered missing Saturday from Amazon World on the Isle of Wight in southern England.

Zoo manager Kath Bright said veterinarians believed the bird probably would die of malnutrition by Thursday night if he wasn’t reunited with his parents.

Zoo workers got a glimmer of hope when they received a report that a bird was found on a beach near the Isle of Wight, but it turned out to be a native guillemot, not a penguin.

“It got all our hopes up,” she said. “Everybody’s on a bit of a downer now, because we thought we had him back. ... Everybody’s really tired, it’s very emotional.”

She said police were pursuing a lead on Toga’s whereabouts but she did not know what it was. Hampshire police declined to comment.

With contributions from local businesses and well-wishers from around the world, the zoo has offered a $8,750 reward for the penguin’s safe return.

Bright said she believed the bird’s disappearance was a real theft, not a hoax of any sort.

“If it’s a joke, it’s a sick joke,” she said. “They are putting this bird’s life at risk.”

“Everybody’s hoping against hope that we are going to get that magic phone call that says, ’He’s there, we’ve got him,” Bright said. “It won’t be a very good Christmas for any of us if we can’t find him.”

Bright said the brown-and-white penguin refuses to be fed by human hand and is probably already severely dehydrated. Toga is too young to have yet had a gender confirmed but traditionally is referred to as a male, she said.

She said he was far too small to have escaped from his enclosure on his own. If a predator had snatched him, there would have been visible evidence, she said.

Bright previously has said she was worried someone had stolen Toga to give as a Christmas gift, inspired by the film “March of the Penguins.”

The French movie was a box office hit and has been credited with drawing tourists to penguin-spotting sites across the world.

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