These Guard Dogs Protect the World’s Smallest Penguins (Successfully)


When foxes discovered this small Australian island and its little penguin inhabitants, they nearly wiped the colony out. But a farmer came up with a novel way to protect the birds.

Image source: Global Screen

The problem first became apparent in the year 2000 when the sea’s natural current led to increased sand build-up in the area. As a result, the local fox population on this island in Australia called Middle Island started to grow as there was an easy source of food around.

The penguins – the world’s smallest actually – faced being wiped out until a chicken farmer by the name Swampy Marsh (wow) came up with a plan. He suggested sending one of his Maremma dogs to protect the birds.

At low tide, and when sand builds up in the narrow channel, foxes can cross from the mainland barely getting their paws wet.
Red fox with a Little Penguin on Middle Island (photo courtesy of Middle Island Maremma Project) and Maremma sheepdog protecting a Gannet colony (seen in the background) (photo by L. van Bommel).

The dog, the first of several to be used on Middle Island, was called Oddball – and Oddball made quite an impact. 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.

And there came the dogs. Image credit: Middle Island Maremma Project
Also known as ‘blue penguins’, ‘little blue penguins’ and ‘fairy penguins’, they are found in Australia and New Zealand and are the smallest of all known penguin species. Image credit: Global Screen

By now, the fairy penguin population has gone back up to almost 200.

The current dogs patrolling Middle Island are Eudy and Tula, named after the scientific term for the fairy penguin: Eudyptula.

The dogs operate in penguin breeding season, usually from October to March, when they spend five or six days a week on the island.

Here we go. Image credit: Middle Island Maremma Project

The project has been such a success that a movie called Oddball has been made about it.

Sources: Middle Island Maremma Project, BBC

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