Penguins' Unlikely Savior: Dogs

Maremma sheepdogs help restore population to Australia island

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Jun 4, 2013 7:23 PM CDT | Updated Jun 8, 2013 7:00 PM CDT

(Newser) – Things got so bad for the penguins on Australia's Middle Island that one researcher counted all of four just seven years ago, down from a peak of 1,500. The problem, as the New Zealand Herald explains, is that red foxes acquired a taste for the Little Penguins and would swim over from the mainland at low tide. Trapping didn't work. In fact, nothing stopped the foxes—until conservationists hit upon the idea of putting two sheepdogs on the island.

"Having a $200 dog that only needs a pat on the head and a handful of dried food each day is a real cost-effective way to do it," says a local farmer. The skittish penguins got used to the two Maremmas, and the dogs in turn have kept the penguins safe from all predators. The population is now back up to 200 or so and gradually increasing. Things have gone so well that Maremmas are now guarding gannets at nearby Point Danger, with similar results, notes LiveScience.

File photo of a two-week-old Little Penguin at the Cincinnati Zoo.
File photo of a two-week-old Little Penguin at the Cincinnati Zoo.   (AP Photo/Al Behrman)
File photo of two Maremma sheepdogs.
File photo of two Maremma sheepdogs.   (Shutterstock)
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