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Alt News
Australian Sheepdogs Protect Endangered Little Penguins
June 4, 2013
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This story is so charming, it could be something out of a children's book.

It's about the Little Penguins (yes, that's actually what they're called), some foxes, and a pair of sheepdogs.

Seven years ago, the Little Penguin population of south Australia's Middle Island had declined from more than 1,000 to only four.

The culprit? Red foxes, which were introduced to Australia in the 1830s, had learned they could walk to the island across a sandbar during low tide. Once there, they started hunting the penguins, decimating the population.


In 2006, a local chicken farmer and an environmental science student teamed up to find a solution.

Alan 'Swampy' Marsh, the farmer, had been using sheep dogs called Maremmas to protect his chickens, and he suggested they could do the same for the penguins.

Student Dave Williams, who was working at the farm part time, jumped on the idea, submitting it as one of his university assignments and approaching the local city council with the idea.

"No one in the world had used Maremmas for conservation management, so we didn't know how it would go," Ian Fitzgibbon, a council employee who worked on the project for seven years, told the New Zealand Herald.

"We went into it with our eyes wide open."

Check out this video about the project, 'Chooks in Dinner Suits' ("chooks" is slang for chickens):

So far, the experiment has been a great success: no penguins have been killed by foxes since the first pair of dogs showed up - although there have been a few hiccups along the way.

The first two dogs who were brought to the island, Oddball and Missy, got bored and swam back to the mainland.

The next pair, Electra and Neve, accidentally killed several penguins, after people played with them and got them over-excited. Then, they tried to play with the penguins, who apparently died of fear.

Eudy and Tula are the dogs on the island now, and they live with the penguins in complete harmony, partly because they were socialized with the birds from the time they were puppies.

The dogs have spent the past four years on the island during breeding season, patrolling and barking at any intruders.

The other six months of the year they're back on Swampy's farm, protecting his free-range chickens.

At the moment, the Little Penguin population has risen to about 200, but Fitzgibbon says everyone involved in conservation efforts has to remain vigilant.

"When foxes were at their peak in the early 2000s we had incidents where they killed more than 100 penguins in one night," he says.

"When you take that into consideration, and the fact we now have around 200 penguins, it still might only take two or three nights for the colony to be wiped out."

Via Grist


Calling All Crafters: Penguins Need Sweaters

No Free Ride For Stranded Baby Penguin

Awesome, Cute, Clumsy Penguins


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