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Cameras may hold clue to who picked up Kelli the penguin

STAFF at Dublin Zoo are pouring over webcam and CCTV footage today in an attempt to identify the thieves who broke in and stole a penguin.

A gang of three men scaled a four-metre-high perimeter fence early yesterday morning and grabbed the terrified bird from her enclosure at the centre of the zoo.

Ten-year-old Humboldt penguin Kelli was snatched away from her mate and taken by the group via taxi to the city centre before being let loose.

A taxi driver reported that three men had hailed his cab with a bag containing a live animal, which they told him was a rabbit.

Four hours later police received a call that a penguin was wandering the streets of north Dublin city centre.

It is believed that the penguin-nappers broke in after hours to the zoo as part of a prank to appear on a live internet broadcast.

Dublin Zoo recently installed a 24-hour penguin webcam for animal lovers to observe the birds in their habitat night and day.

And a representative for Dublin Zoo said that they were currently viewing the webcam which was installed over the pen.

The zoo credited its own security measures and the rapid response of gardai for Kelli's safe return.

Gardai located the penguin after a member of the public directed them to Rutland Street about four hours after she went missing.

Kelli calmed down after she was reunited with her partner, Mick.

The penguin at the centre of the kidnap is a small breed native to parts of South America, mainly Chile and when she was returned to the zoo, she was checked out by a vet.

But the animal was in a stressed state and was panting following her ordeal.

"They don't deal well with being handled," said Eddie O'Brien, team leader at the zoo's east section.

"Her mate was also panting and would have been more stressed because he was left alone. They bond together very strongly.

"There could have been two deaths," he added.

Mr O'Brien said staff were "delighted" at her safe return.

However, Dublin Zoo said the theft was "not something amusing" and underlined their annoyance at the incident.

"Dublin Zoo is naturally relieved that the animal is safe and unharmed and back in the zoo," they said.

"The welfare and health of all animals is our primary concern and this kind of incident is not frivolous and is certainly not something amusing."

The zoo said the penguin kidnap was a criminal matter and is now in the hands of the gardai.