End of an era with maremma guardian dog Tula passing away

News date:

This is the date and time that this news article was published.

Warrnambool’s beloved penguin protector, Tula, has passed away at the age of 13.

Tula’s passing comes five months after that of her sister and fellow Maremma guardian dog Eudy.

The pair were the first dogs specially trained to protect Warrnambool’s Little Penguin Colony on Middle Island – a project that has achieved global recognition and was even the inspiration for the feature film Oddball, starring Shane Jacobson.

While Oddball only spent weeks on the island, Tula retired in 2019, having spent eight seasons as the lead guardian.

She remained active in retirement, spending time with the younger dogs, and was an integral part of their training.

Middle Island Penguin Project Dog Handler, Dr Trish Corbett said that Tula was the matriarch of the project and would be deeply missed.

“Tula was the lead guardian. She was always the first to jump up and bark if there was a threat,” she said.

“Middle Island was her domain. She had such a strong instinct and loved protecting her island.

“Tula, together with Eudy, also did an amazing job in training the new generation of guardians.

“Even after she retired to the ‘farm’, she continued to protect the chickens and train the younger dogs. You couldn’t tell her not to work. She lived for it.”

Dr Corbett said that Tula had previously had two cruciate ligament surgeries and arthritis. 

“She was old and it was her time,” she said.

“Tula spent her last night with loved ones visiting her and went to sleep with love and a stomach full of her favourite food.

“I’d like to thank the Vet Group for their compassion and care, especially during Tula’s final days. I’d also like to thank Pet Stock for their support in feeding our team of guardians over the years.”

Warrnambool Mayor Cr Richard Ziegeler thanked Tula for everything she has done.

“With the sad passing of Tula, it’s the end of an era for one of the world’s most innovative conservation projects,” he said.

“It’s a poignant after note to the recent death of Eudy, Tula’s sister.

“The Maremmas are iconic in Warrnambool. Part of the main entrance sign for the city depicts penguins in front of Middle Island under the watchful eye of a Maremma dog and the Middle Island Penguin Project is something that fills the people of Warrnambool with a lot of pride. 

“The legacy that Tula and her sister Eudy have created will live on in the work undertaken by the next generation of Maremma guardian dogs and the dedicated people who make the project possible.

“I offer my sincere condolences to the team who have worked with these two magnificent dogs over the past 13 years.”

Tula’s ashes will be scattered along with her sister Eudy’s on Middle Island.

A public memorial for the sisters will be live streamed by Fitz Media on the Middle Island Maremma Penguin Project Facebook page at 7.30pm Friday November 5.

The Middle Island Maremma Penguin Project began in 2006 when fox predation resulted in a sharp decline in the size of the colony of Little Penguins on Middle Island.

A Deakin University study of the Little Penguin 1999-2000 breeding season found 292 occupied burrows with 502 penguins coming ashore during a one-hour period in January 2000.

By 2005 there were fewer than 10 penguins on the island.

A local chicken farmer, Swampy Marsh, suggested Maremma guardian dogs could be used to protect the penguins after successfully using them to guard chickens on his farm.

The Middle Island Penguin Project was born, with Maremma dogs playing a vital role in the recovery of the colony ever since.

To learn more about the Middle Island Maremma Penguin Project visit www.warrnamboolpenguins.com.au.