Deakin contributes to penguin project

DEAKIN University has thrown in $30,000 to support the acclaimed penguin protection project which uses Maremma dogs on Warrnambool’s Middle Island.

Its contribution announced last night will extend over three years to supplement the program which has been budgeted about $67,000 this financial year. Deakin’s partnership comes two months after the city council outlined its commitment to continue protecting the penguin colony while calling for more corporate support to relieve the financial burden which has cost the council about $200,000 since 2006.

Last week mayor Michael Neoh challenged the state government to contribute more in light of a forthcoming feature film based around the story of how a local chook farmer’s Maremmas were used to save the colony which had been reduced to about five adults after slaughter by foxes and stray dogs.

There are now about 200 penguins thriving on the island.

Deakin’s head of campus at Warrnambool, Professor Gerry Quinn, said the university had strong links with the island including research by at least two PhD students which was recognised internationally.

“We’ve also had people on the advisory committee,” he said.

“This project has attracted national and international attention from a scientific perspective as a new way of managing wildlife using dogs.

“Warrnambool City Council took a risk. It must have seemed a strange idea at the time and we need to acknowledge Swampy Marsh and his Maremmas for coming up with the concept.”

Professor Quinn said the funding would be at $10,000 a year to support various aspects of the project.

“This is really a continuation of our in-kind investment,” he said. “We’ll still have personnel involved in research opportunities.”

Cr Neoh said the university’s contribution and kennelling of the dogs at Flagstaff Hill rather than outside the city as in previous years, would help reduce costs for the council.

“We are always happy to have other partners come on board,” he said.

Tourism services manager Peter Abbott said three public tours of the island would be held this weekend with more to follow in January.

“Our primary purpose is to protect the penguins and there will be very little filming done on the island,” he said.

Two Maremmas are stationed on the island four days and nights a week during nesting and breeding seasons.

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