Maremmas return to Middle Island after foxes kill penguins

SAD DAY: Middle Island project volunteers John Sutherland and Dr Trish Corbett on their way to Middle Island. Picture: Rob Gunstone
SAD DAY: Middle Island project volunteers John Sutherland and Dr Trish Corbett on their way to Middle Island. Picture: Rob Gunstone

MAREMMAS returned to Middle Island on Thursday in an effort to ensure this week’s fox attack doesn’t happen again.

About 70 little penguins were killed by foxes. The deaths were found during a routine inspection which was done to see whether the birds had returned for their breeding season. 

At 7am on Thursday, two Maremmas – Eudy and Tula – returned to the island.

Warrnambool City Council manager of visitor economy David McMahon praised the volunteers – particularly Dr Ann Wallis, Dr Trish Corbett, and John Sutherland – who had the sad and difficult task of removing the dead penguins from Middle Island on Thursday.

Mr McMahon said the penguin bodies were put in cold storage at Deakin University, with a decision yet to be made about whether or not further research will be done on the birds.

Maremmas were not due to begin their guardian roles on the island – that typically coincides with the penguin breeding season in late August or early September – but they will remain on the island from Thursday.

Warrnambool mayor Cr Kylie Gaston said the Warrnambool community was saddened by the fox attack, which was believed to have wiped out almost 40 per cent of the existing colony.

“We feel particularly for the volunteers who have worked so hard to make this a successful conservation project,” Cr Gaston said.

“(The) news underlines the important role performed by the Maremmas. 

“Those closely involved in the project will look at adapting the program to accommodate changes in penguin behaviour and any corresponding threat posed by predatory animals such as foxes.”