The Sheepdogs That Protect The Little Penguins

Samuel Reason | April 16th, 2019

On an Australian Island, there was a strong and vibrant colony of little penguins – that was until the foxes came and nearly ate them all up. Luckily for the little penguins they had a farmer on their side who decided to come up with an amazing way to protect them, in fact, it is so magical it was turned into a film.

Middle Island is a rugged and beautiful island off the coast of Southern Victoria in Australia, it is one of the only homes of the world’s smallest penguins. They were originally called fairy penguins, but that was deemed to be offensive and politically incorrect so they have now been given the title of little penguins. And well, to be honest, it is not an insult, they only do stand between 30 to 40 cms tall.

There used to be hundreds of them in their colony on the Middle Island until the foxes turned up. Peter Abbott from the Penguin Preservation Project said that at one point they could only locate four of the penguins when their colony used to be 800 strong. One time they found over 360 penguins killed in one night, unfortunately, foxes are indeed one of the worst types of predators when it comes to killing: they kill for the thrill of it.

Middle Island is uninhabited by humans but it is only separated from the mainland by a stretch of water that is just 20 to 30 m at most. So when the low tide arrives the sands that build up to give the foxes a passage without really needing to get wet at all. And the fox population start to grow extremely quick due to an easy source of food. Which led to one farmer by the name of Swampy Marsh coming up with a novel idea of sending one of his Maremma dogs onto the island.

Normally Maremma dogs were used to keep their chickens, goats or sheep safe, so it was thought it would be the perfect solution. And it was! Immediately after sending Oddball as the dog was called onto the island, the foxes started to change their patterns and were less inclined to go hunting on the island. Amazingly since the dogs have been on protection duty over the last 10 years, no penguins have been killed by a fox on Middle Island.

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