A surprise gift from an unexpected overseas source has given Warrnambool's famed maremma penguin project just the drive it needs to keep going.
Supreme Master Ching Hai, of Vietnam, had heard about the work the dogs do to protect the threatened penguins on Middle Island and reached out, offering the donation worth about $50,000.
On Friday the Middle Island Project Working Group took possession of the new car from Norton Ford, which will be used by volunteers to transfer the dogs between Flagstaff Hill and the island.
Professor Rob Wallis said until now the volunteers had been using their own cars, many of which were quite small, to take the dogs to the island and back.
He said the donation was a surprise and came after 18 months of lobbying, without success, for funding to buy a car.
Professor Wallis said he had not spoken to the Supreme Master but after Googling discovered she owned a TV station, had written lots of books and strongly promoted veganism as a way of compassionate treatment of animals.
He said she gives out a series of awards - but how regularly he didn't know - and the maremma project was selected for the Shinging World Leaders Award for showing leadership in compassionate conservation and compassionate treatment of animals in the environment.
The award was worth $30,000 US dollars and then each of the dogs - Eudy and Tula - received $2000 US dollars for their leadership.
"We didn't apply for this. She contacted us directly after apparently reading about Tula's retirement with bad arthritis," Professor Wallis said.
Professor Wallis said he was first contacted about the donation in April through a Melbourne couple who know the supreme master.
He said when he received the email - which didn't stipulate a dollar amount - he initially thought it was a bit unusual.
"When we were told we were getting $30,000 US I just about fell off my chair as you can imagine," Professor Wallis said.
"We've been desperately trying to get a vehicle. You can imagine those big dogs sitting in the cars of the volunteers, some of them are very little cars.
"When we suggested buying a car was how we wanted to use the money, the donor was really delighted because she could see it was a specific item.
"There was no strings attached. We could have used the money for anything."
He said she wouldn't have given "such a staggeringly big sum of money" if she wasn't certain it would be put to good use.
"It's a really good news story," he said.
Professor Wallis said he was hoping to put a big picture of the dogs on the car and a list of project sponsors.
He said they had put together a thank you pack - including the Oddball movie, t-shirt and caps - but was told that the supreme master didn't want anything in return because it was "purely a donation".
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