Penguins rally for comeback

AN encouraging number of fairy penguins was recorded at Warrnambool's Middle Island this week, despite a cruel attack on the small colony 10 days ago. Last week environmental workers found three penguin chicks dead and dozens of nests crushed after vandals went on a violent rampage across the island.Warrnambool City Council environmental officer David Williams said about 120 birds were counted waddling onto the island's shore - a record since the unique Maremma dog project started."When the Maremma program started four years ago, there were only four penguins," Mr Williams said. "Now the numbers are increasing with each breeding season."In the world-first initiative, two sisters of the Italian canine breed have been working to keep predatory foxes away from the vulnerable birds.The Maremma s are regularly let loose on the island to mark their scent over the special territory.Mr Williams told The Standard the pair would eventually live on the island for extended periods of time to ensure the penguin's breeding season went uninterrupted."The dogs are nearing maturity and will spend the majority of their time on the island next breeding season," Mr Williams said.However, the population of the penguin colony has been put at constant risk as vandals and trespassers ignore the island's restrictive laws.A council bylaw prohibits any access to the island but it seems the message is not getting through.Mr Williams said humans were turning out to be bigger problems than foxes and wild dogs, prompting security cameras to be installed to catch trespassers."There are CCTV cameras installed in various locations across the island and people face a hefty fine if caught trespassing," he said.More than 300 law-abiding participants attended the Meet-the-Maremmas summer program earlier this month.The daily tours gave participants an insight into the life of a Maremma and the importance of the little penguin colony.Mr Williams hoped the tours had educated the public enough to help protect the precious rookery.Anyone who witnesses suspicious activity on the island should call the council on 5559 4800 or 0417 145 781.