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Middle Island at dusk

Final assessment of Middle Island fox attack

News Article Date: 
Tuesday, 22 August 2017

A final assessment of the Middle Island penguins killed in fox attacks over recent weeks has seen the toll rise to about 140.

The initial count by Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network volunteers made from the island’s boardwalk last Wednesday recorded 70 dead penguins 
A follow-up visit was made the following day and after a thorough search a further 70 dead penguins were collected. 
 “This has been a disheartening experience for the many volunteers and the community as a whole,” Chair of the Middle Island Project Working Group Dr Anne Wallis said.

“However, for those who have given so much of their time to saving the Middle Island Little Penguin colony, it is reassuring to know that our penguins have come back from worse odds before.  
  
“Estimates from the last breeding season indicated approximately 182 breeding individuals were on the island, which equates to between 200 and 250 individuals in the colony. 

“What we have found, thanks to microchip technology, is that in recent years Middle Island is attracting a few penguins who previously called Phillip Island home.
 
“That new penguins are coming to the island each season is a bonus for our colony.”
 
This year, penguins arrived in larger numbers at an earlier time than previous years. Foxes were able to swim across and strike in the absence of the maremma guardian dogs.

The guardian dogs were placed on the island last Thursday morning and since then no further penguin deaths have been recorded.
 
Along with installing the maremma guardian dogs on Middle Island, each year an authorised Council officer shoots a number of foxes in the Middle Island precinct.
 
As a result of the recent penguin kill, other fox control methods will be investigated.
 
Since the introduction of the maremma guardian dogs to the island more than a decade ago the Middle Island penguin colony has recovered from fewer than 10 birds in 2005 to more than 200.
 
The penguin conservation effort is supported by a dedicated band of volunteers including members of Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network.
 
The two guardian dogs, Eudy and Tula, are in their final years of active work and plans are under way to see younger dogs gradually introduced to the island as guardians. 
 
Most maremmas are serious working dogs who like to stick to the guardian task.
 
“The maremmas we bought as puppies in 2016, Amor and Avis, are people-friendly which is unusual for this breed,” Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Network Penguin Monitoring Coordinator Dr Trish Corbett said. 

“Because they like people we think there will be an important role for them off the island. 
 
“Many visitors to Warrnambool want to meet a maremma and these two young dogs will be ideal for this task. 
 
“A new maremma puppy has been ordered and will be here by the end of October."

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