Using dogs to protect endangered penguins on Warrnambool’s Middle Island has been hailed an international success, but the wildlife project needs more corporate help to take the load off ratepayers.
City councillors this week approved another 12-month extension of running the project at an estimated cost of $67,270 with about $35,800 coming from the council budget, $13,790 from corporate support and $17,680 from community groups.
It includes an estimated $32,100 for feeding, training, transporting and monitoring the five-year-old females, which spent last night back on the island where they will be progressively be left for longer periods, peaking with chick hatchings in December.
Alternative funding sources will be sought and a review conducted to find efficient cost-effective ways of continuing the work, which started after fox and dog predation had reduced colony numbers on Middle Island to four birds.
“We are saying it shouldn’t be an ongoing cost to council, we need some partnerships,” said city growth director Bill Millard.
Maremma dogs, which had shown skills in guarding local poultry flocks, were introduced in 2006 for a world-first trial to save the little penguins from extinction.
Earlier this year a monitoring count showed 112 adult penguins and there are now an estimated 190 thriving in their sanctuary.
It’s a success story that Italian scientist and film director Roberto Palozzi will televise in his country early next year to more than a million viewers. His documentary crew filmed the dogs, Tula and Eudy, on Middle Island yesterday.
“We have the most popular television nature program in Italy,” he told The Standard.
“People will be interested to learn about this program.
“Maremmas are very popular in Italy and have a long history going back to the Romans who used them to protect their sheep.”
Mr Palozzi and his crew from Erebus Productions also filmed a segment at Tower Hill and a local choir performing a multi-lingual song about Maremmas.
He expects to have the segment production finished by Christmas to be aired in January in the Geo & Geo series.
Warrnambool City Council sustainability officer Lisa Rankin said it would be the first international television coverage and hoped it would inspire more tourists to visit.
“We’d love to be able to ramp it up with more corporate support and viewings — the opportunities are endless,” she said.
“There are already webcams at three burrows and footage is shown on the wilddiaries website.
“Daytime public tours will run again in January.
“We are also looking for passionate volunteers to help with counting penguin arrivals and breeding boxes.”
A report to Monday night’s city council meeting said there was opportunity to build upon the achievements and seek alternative funding.
“While the project has been hugely successful to date the colony is not yet stable enough to ensure that penguins would be able to recover from fox predation without protection of the Maremmas,” the report from Mr Millard said.
“There is potential for organisations to “adopt” the project and provide funding in return for marketing and branding.
“There are many case studies where conservation projects have been funded through tourism packages.”
Community consultation will be ramped up in December and January and a draft project plan is scheduled for March.
Mayor Michael Neoh said the council took a risk at first, but the subsequent success should inspire interest from the corporate world and state government.
“If we can have save a whale campaigns, why not have save a penguin?” he asked.
Other councillors supported moves to expand the tourism potential and look for extra continuing funding.