21 March 2011

Thieves steal little penguins under cover of darkness

AUSTRALIA - Some very upsetting news from South Australia this week as Granite Island Penguin Centre told the Sunday Mail that vandals have climbed fences to abduct little penguins and destroy their habitat.

"We've had six penguins stolen, it's dreadful," Penguin Centre co-ordinator Dorothy Longden told the Sunday Mail.

The Penguin Centre cares for sick and injured penguins before releasing them back into the wild. To steal the penguins, the thieves had to scale a six-foot-high concrete fence. As if stealing the birds wasn't horrible enought, the perpetrators also destroyed the penguins' burrows.

Mrs Longden said that she thought the thieves either released the stolen birds elsewhere, where they are unlikely to survive, or tried to keep them as pets.

To make matters worse, the penguins are being taken from an already dwindling population. Ten years ago, the island's penguin population was 1,500; last August's census showed there were only 146 birds left.

Environment Department Kangaroo Island regional manager Bill Haddrill told the Sunday Mail that humans were part of the reason penguin numbers had dropped, along with dogs, cats, rats and New Zealand fur seals.

"Human disturbances in the form of habitat loss and habitat modification play a significant role in determining sustainability of little penguin colonies, as do human visitation impacts," he said.

The centre has security measures such as the fences and cameras in place, but Mrs Longden says more needs to be done. She would like the causeway that connects that island to the mainland closed off at night, which is when all the problems, including bottles being thrown into the penguins' burrows, have occurred.

"We have to be serious about the penguins we have left. If we close the causeway off we might stand a chance. We started a petition in January and have more than 1,000 signatures, we want about 2,000 altogether," she said.

Fears for penguins being pinched from Granite Island by Sarah Mennie, 20 March 2011, Sunday Mail (SA)

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