WARRNAMBOOL’S little penguins are in good paws.
The newest Middle Island Maremma guardian dog has reported for duty, with five-month-old pup Mezzo beginning his training under the watchful eyes of current guardian dogs Eudy and Tula.
Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network penguin monitoring co-ordinator Dr Trish Corbett said the new dogs will largely be kept out of the public eye.
“While they will be exposed to people so that they will not see them as a threat, we don’t want them to bond with anyone other than their trainers,” she said.
“Maremmas have been used for centuries as guardian dogs and we want Mezzo and Isola to focus their efforts on protecting the little penguin colony on Middle Island.”
Dr Corbett said the 2018/19 penguin season was scheduled to be Eudy and Tula’s last on the island, with Mezzo and Isola sharing the job before taking over themselves the following year.
“Eudy and Tula have yet again done an amazing job this season, protecting the island since the beginning of September,” she said. “They are heading towards retirement and I think we can all agree that they have earned a rest. They will still have a few chickens to protect on their farm, but they will predominantly live a life of leisure.”
The most recent penguin counts on Middle Island have been encouraging following a devastating fox attack last August which saw 140 penguins killed.
Penguin numbers peaked at 38 birds which equates to a breeding population of 63 and an overall population of 70 to 100.
“The events of last winter demonstrated that nature constantly adapts to changing conditions and that we need to adjust our approach to keep our penguins safe year-round,” Dr Corbett said.
“During winter it is far too dangerous to have the dogs on the island, so we will be investigating strategies such as daily scenting at Stingray Bay and the use of remote sensing cameras with a direct alert system.
“We are confident that with multiple strategies we will be able to keep foxes off the island.”
Mezzo’s future colleague, Isola, is still with her mother and will arrive in Warrnambool soon.
The names Mezzo and Isola roughly translate to Middle Island in Italian.