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Two Dudes Broke Into An Aquarium And Freed A Penguin Named Buddy

Now all of South Africa is trying to find him.

An actually wild African penguin.

An actually wild African penguin. (Photo: Paul Mannix/CC BY 2.0)

On certain Wednesday mornings, we must contend with questions. Which is better: the new or the old? Risk or acceptance? A life of comfortable confinement—or true freedom, and its attendant dangers?

This morning, all of South Africa is grappling with these issues after two men broke into an aquarium and stole a penguin named Buddy. The pair entered Bayworld in Port Elizabeth around 3 AM on Wednesday the 21st, the Herald Live reported last week. Surveillance video shows them climbing into the penguin enclosure, taking a few selfies, bundling Buddy up in a shirt, and hightailing it out of there in a getaway car.

When zookeepers realized Buddy was missing, they assumed he was the victim of a drunken prank—like Dirk the Fairy Penguin, stolen from an Australian zoo by British tourists back in 2012. Seabird curator Cherie Lawrence warned the thieves that Buddy “only eats pilchards” and vitamin supplements, making him a high-maintenance houseguest.

But when the perpetrators came forward yesterday, they revealed a different motivation—they just wanted Buddy to be free. After busting him out of Bayworld, they released him into the Indian Ocean, via a nearby beach.

“The individuals stated that they did not agree with the penguins being kept in captivity and that their intention was to capture and then release a penguin back into the wild,” Bayworld said in a statement, after they were contacted by the men’s lawyer.

But Bayworld counters that Buddy lacks real-world survival skills, and had built a happy life at their facility. He had a mate, Francis, and two new baby chicks, one of which died after his father left.

Volunteers have spent the past couple of days searching for Buddy, who has a microchip embedded in his flipper and an unforgettable face. It’s possible that he will be returned to Bayworld a jaded penguin, grizzled by the open sea. In the meantime, let’s hope he’s enjoying his freedom, and eating more than just pilchards.

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.