Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Dogs rescue penguins on small Australian island

Dogs have been brought in to rescue a colony of the world's smallest penguins on a tiny Australian Island, a report by the BBC has confirmed.

When foxes moved in and nearly wiped out the colony of penguins on Middle Island, just off the coast of southern Victoria, a farmer came up with a novel way to protect the birds - and the story has now been made into a film.

Originally known as fairy penguins - before it was deemed politically incorrect - they are now known as little penguins.

Middle Island is separated from the mainland by a stretch of water measuring no more than 20 or 30m but it is uninhabited by humans. At low tide foxes can easily cross from the mainland. The fox population began to grow with the easy source of food.

Peter Abbott from the Penguin Preservation Project said there were initially around 800 penguins but after the foxes began their killing spree, just four were found – the worst night being when 360 birds were killed over about two nights.

But fortunately a chicken farmer, by the name of Swampy Marsh, came up with a plan - to send one of his Maremma dogs (traditionally used to protect chickens) in to protect the penguins. The dog, called Oddball, made quite an impact and amazingly, since Oddball and his four-legged successors were introduced 10 years ago, there has not been a single penguin killed by a fox on Middle Island. The little penguin population has now returned to almost 200.

The dogs operate in the penguin's breeding season, usually from October to March, when they spend five or six days a week on the island. But even when the dogs are absent, their lingering scent is enough to keep the foxes away.

The film – Oddball - has already taken around 11m Australian dollars (£5.3m) at the box office and is now heading for global audiences.

Listen to Jon Donnison's report on BBC iPlayer radio here.

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