11 May 2011

Penguin dies after dog attack

NEW ZEALAND - A little penguin was killed in a dog attack in Seaview, Lower Hutt, on the weekend.

Witness Anne Rodgers told The Hutt News that she saw a woman, who was with a man and two dogs, trying to hide the injured penguin under a bush.

"She was clearly ashamed that her dog had done that."

Mrs Rodgers called the SPCA, which took the bird to the Native Bird Rescue Trust, which in turn took it to Wellington Zoo. Unfortunately, the penguin was very badly injured and had no chance of surviving the attack.

Hutt City Animal Control manager Les Dalton told The Hutt News that a dog attack on a protected species was "very serious" and can carry penalties such as a jail sentence or a heavy fine. If the couple who were walking the dogs can be identified, the council will interview them and take appropriate action.

The witness wasn't sure which of the dogs had attacked the bird, but said that one of them was on an extendable lead. Mr Dalton said that legally an owner must have a dog under control, and a long stretchy lead offers only limited control.

He added that if a dog does attack another animal, the owner should do the "right thing" and assist the injured animal. In this case, the owner was probably deeply embarrassed, but he said that was no excuse for leaving the penguin to suffer.

Penguin killed in dog attack by Nicholas Boyack, 10 May 2011, The Hutt News

Dog ban overturned in Manly

AUSTRALIA - The ban on dogs using the steps up to Federation Point has been overturned at a Manly Council meeting on Monday night, The Manly Daily reported.

The new regulation was one of several measures put in place in order to protect the little penguins' breeding area at Federation Point. It caused intense debate in Manly, with local dog owners saying that there had been no community consultation before the regulations were introduced.

The Manly Daily reported that Manly's penguin wardens had wanted dogs banned from the steps, which are near the birds’ breeding area at Federation Point, because the dogs' presence could scare the birds. The wardens said the penguins would smell dogs and this would change their behaviour, possibly even stop them from coming ashore.

Read previous posts:

Victory for dog owners: ban overturned by Peter Bodkin, 10 May 2011, The Manly Daily
Dog owners v wardens, round two by Peter Bodkin, 6 May 2011, The Manly Daily

09 May 2011

St Kilda's penguins prove too popular

AUSTRALIA - Parks Victoria have had to step in to protect a colony of 1200-plus little penguins living at the end of St Kilda Pier after the birds have proved too popular for their own good, attracting crowds of up to 1500 people a night.

The Age reported that the birds are becoming stressed by the use of torches and flash photography, and some had even been picked up by drunk backpackers.

Port Phillip councillor Serge Thomann told The Age that the penguins were "victims of their own popularity and cuteness". Cr Thomann recently met with representatives from Parks Victoria, the Department of Sustainability and Environment and volunteer group Earthcare St Kilda to discuss penguin protection measures.

"The quicker the new Parks Victoria-proposed boardwalks are built, the better for everyone," he said.

Another suggestion is a gate that would be staffed by Earthcare St Kilda volunteers, who would help monitor the crowds. As part of the St Kilda Pier redevelopment, a floating observation deck is also planned.

Earthcare St Kilda penguin research co-ordinator Zoe Hogg told The Age that unlicenced tour groups were captalising on the penguin's popularity, but they regularly ignored signs showing a ban on flash photography. She said visitor numbers peaked last summer when hostels began promoting the penguins to backpackers.

"It's got out of hand; we've had up to 1500 people down there and it's getting dangerous for visitors and penguins," she said.

Touchy-feeling fans threaten St Kilda's penguin parade by Cameron Houston, 8 May 2011, The Age

Penguins - the perfect Royal Wedding present

UK - They may have got married only recently, but Prince William and new bride Kate already have a growing family ... of Humboldt penguins.

In addition to the adoption pack for their namesake penguins Will and Kate sent to them by Dudley Zoo for their engagement, the newlyweds received an adoption pack for another Humboldt penguin, Acorn, from Chester Zoo as a wedding present.

Chester Zoo unveiled its gift to the happy couple after asking followers on social networking sites to choose which of its 400 different species the royal pair should sponsor. The penguins were the clear winners with over 20% of the votes.

A spokesperson for the zoo said, “It’s a real honour to be able to boast Prince William and Kate as penguin adopters ... hopefully the happy couple will come and see little Acorn playing in his pool very soon.”

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge aren't the only high profile adoptive parents of penguins. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently became an honorary patron of a Humboldt penguin, whom she named Alexandra, during a visit to the Ozeaneum Stralsund maritime museum in northern Germany.

Alexandra, aged three, will now be sponsored for life - which could be quite a long time, considering Humboldt penguins have a life expectancy of 30.

Read related post: Penguins join in Royal Wedding celebrations 

William and Kate receive a penguin as royal wedding gift from Chester Zoo, 6 May 2011, Chester Zoo
Merkel adopts a Humboldt penguin, 8 May 2011, Sky News Australia
DZG's Royal Wedding, 29 April 2011, Dudley Zoological Gardens

05 May 2011

Poor food availability caused penguin deaths

NEW ZEALAND - The Department of Conservation (DOC) has received the necropsy results from Massey University for little penguins washed up dead on East Coast beaches in late April. The answer: La Nina strikes again.

According to DOC, the penguin deaths are consistent with a prolonged period of starvation and exposure.

Jamie Quirk, Ranger, Biodiversity Assets, said that eighteen little penguins from two different sites including those found washed up at Waihau Bay were tested.

"A good cross-section of the population were tested: eight adult females, five adult males and five sub-adults (sex undetermined)," he said.

The experts at Massey concluded that twelve died of starvation and emaciation, five died of starvation, emaciation and exposure and one died from exposure, hypothermia and an infection. No food was found in the stomachs of any of the birds. Penguin health is measured as a body score with a maximum of nine; the body score for twelve of the penguins was 2/9 and the remaining six scored 3/9.

"The penguin deaths are linked to the La Nina weather patterns which have reduced the amount of baitfish available. The empty stomachs and low fat reserves leading to low body score are the result of this poor food availability," said Mr Quirk.

The dead penguins were examined after East Coast residents raised the possibility that seismic testing being carried out in the region by oil company Petrobras was the cause.

Read related post: Is seismic testing to blame for penguin deaths?

Results received for penguin deaths on East Coast beaches, 4 May 2011, Department of Conservation

Sea Life Scarborough penguins scared by trespasser

Humboldt penguins at Sea Life Scarborough.
Photo by AdamKR. Some rights reserved.
UK - A trespasser left Humboldt penguins "frightened and upset" after chasing the birds around their enclosure at Sea Life Scarborough in the early hours of 25 April.

North Yorkshire police are looking at CCTV footage to try to identify those responsible, and appealing for any witnesses to come forward.

Mike Salt, general manager at the centre, told BBC News that the trespasser had chased the animals around for about 15 minutes, which would have been very upsetting for them.

"Penguins are very susceptible to stress, they like their routine and any change can prove threatening to them. This incident would have been really frightening. They have been clearly upset and were off their food for several days," he said.

This is not the first time the centre's penguins have been frightened by an intruder. In June 2008, a teenager broke into their enclosure and chased them around for 15 minutes. The birds went into shock, refusing to eat for two days, and had to be put on anti-stress drugs.

An even more distressing incident for one of the penguins, Piglet, occurred in May 2004 when he was stolen from the enclosure. He was found abandoned in a back garden, alive but distressed. Thankfully he recovered from his ordeal and went on to become the centre's first penguin dad when he and his female partner George hatched two chicks in June 2006.

Hopefully the penguins will recover just as well from this latest ordeal.

Penguins "frightened" by break-in at Sea Life Centre, 3 May 2011, BBC News
Raiders strike at Sea Life Centre, 3 May 2011, Scarborough Evening News
Penguins left in shock by Sea Life thug, 18 June 2008, Scarborough Evening News
Happy ending for plucky penguin, 28 June 2006, BBC News
Police hunt penguin "abductors", 18 May 2004, BBC News

04 May 2011

SANCCOB team leaves penguins in islanders' capable hands

Penguins resting after a swim in the
release pool. Photo by Katrine
TRISTAN DA CUNHA -The SANCCOB team, along with International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) staff, departed Tristan da Cunha for Cape Town on 23 April aboard the Ivan Papanin

Island Administrator Sean Burns thanked them all for their help and support. He acknowledged that there was still a lot of work to be done to clean and release the rockhopper penguins, but he was grateful for the resources left behind - both material and financial.

SANCCOB Chief Executive Venessa Strauss told the Cape Argus the six-member SANCCOB response team felt privileged to be able to help: "We had a chance to make a difference."

She said two positive outcomes of the MS Oliva disaster are that the Tristan da Cunha islanders are now fully trained to rehabilitate oiled seabirds, and that they have the equipment ready on the island should another spill occur.

"We left behind skills, knowledge and equipment. That’s the good that came out of this, and the next response [to an oil spill there] will be quicker and more efficient. This has highlighted how important it is for these faraway places to be equipped and [people living there to be] trained."

Ms Strauss acknowledged the high mortality rate - RSPB Project Officer Katrine Herian reported on 17 April that of the 3718 birds admitted to the rehab centre, 2378 had died - but said it was unfortunate that the oiled penguins had just finished moulting and were therefore in a poor physical condition. She added that if it had been a month earlier, it could have been much worse. 

Release pool 

Before the SANCCOB team left they helped with the construction of a release pool, which was completed on 17 April after three days of intensive work. All washed penguins will be brought to the release pool to be swum and fed in the days up until they are released back to sea.

"It has been a logistical challenge getting this facility up and running," said SANCCOB's Logistical Manager MariĆ«tte Hopley. "We wanted it close to the rehab shed but the ground was too uneven, so we had to relocate."

The release pool is actually two pools, designed so that there constant circulation of freshened water. There are also pebbled areas where the washed penguins can dry off and preen in between swimming and feeding.

While some of the stronger penguins clearly took well to the spacious pools, unfortunately some of the birds struggled with the cold and the swimming, and the stress of this may have contributed to further casualties.

There are now around 446 penguins in total in care. Mr Burns said that the strategy now is to focus additional care and re-rinsing on those remaining, build them up, monitor their feathers and then release when they are ready. While everybody is keen to release the penguins back into the wild, this cannot be rushed as they have to be in good condition for their long voyage.

Nightingale still rodent-free

One of the major concerns when the the MS Oliva crashed was that any rodents aboard the vessel would make their way to the rodent-free Nightingale Island. Thankfully, the team monitoring the bait stations set up on the island for rats have reported that there is no evidence of rodent infestation.

Read related posts

'Oil spill could have been worse' by John Yeld, 29 April 2011, Cape Argus
MS Oliva clean up operation, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 3 May 2011
MS Oliva Tristan-based diary, Tristan da Cunha Association: accessed 3 May 2011
Washed rockhoppers get ready for release, RSPB, 18 April 2011, BirdLife International

Is seismic testing to blame for penguin deaths?

NEW ZEALAND - The Maori Party and Gisborne District Councillor Manu Caddie are calling for action from the NZ Government after at least a dozen penguins were found washed up on East Cape beach Waihau Bay, near where oil company Petrobras is conducting seismic testing.

The Maori Party has asked the Government to declare whether it commissioned an environmental impact report on seismic testing in Raukumara Basin before it granted a permit to Petrobras.

The request follows claims from some East Coast residents that the testing might be the reason behind the penguins' deaths.

"Many of our iwi attribute special significance to the penguin as taonga [treasured or sacred] species," Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell said.

"We would be extremely distressed if these birds are being placed at any threat to their life as a result of 'human-induced' risks."

"There's no evidence that the testing is killing the birds but at the very least the Government should have made sure that an impact report was done before giving an exploration permit, which includes seismic testing activity, to Petrobras."

The Maori Party has approached the Ministers of Conservation, Environment and the Acting Minister of Energy and Resources for an urgent investigation into the alleged claims.

Meanwhile, Gisborne District Councillor Mr Caddie has demanded a moratorium on seismic testing, saying new international research suggests such testing is responsible for killing a range of sea creatures.

"While the Government may blame La Nina weather conditions for starving the penguins or suggest a storm killed them, locals haven’t noticed any major storm recently," he said.

"Evidence is piling up on the impact of the seismic tests both here and abroad."

Mr Caddie cited recently published research from researchers at the Technical University of Catalonia in Barcelona that found the deaths of giant squid, washed up on Spanish beaches in 2001 and 2003, were caused by nearby oil and gas seismic surveys.

The Department of Conservation has declined to comment on the penguins' deaths until it knows the cause. Necropsy results are expected sometime next week.

Penguin deaths still a mystery, 1 May 2011, Newstalk ZB
Maori Party wants answer on seismic testing and dead penguins, 26 April 2011, Maori Party
Time to stop the testing, 25 April 2011, Caddie in Council 2010-2013

03 May 2011

Penguins join in Royal Wedding celebrations

Penguins Will and Kate
celebrate the Royal
Wedding with keeper
Sophie Dugmore. Photo:
Dudley Zoological Gardens
UK - It was hard to escape Royal Wedding fever in the UK, even for penguins.

Dudley Zoo in the West Midlands named two Humboldt penguins William and Kate when the wedding announcement was made, and zoo staff and hundreds of visitors helped the penguin pair celebrate the nuptials on 29 April along with the real royal couple.

As chicks, penguins William and Kate were rejected by their mothers during the cold snap last autumn. They were hand-reared by dedicated keepers and since November have made steady progress in the aviary nursery. They are gradually being introduced into the main group, which at 60-plus birds is the largest Humboldt penguin colony in the UK.

Dudley Zoo's CEO Peter Suddock explained that as the zoo incorporates the 11th century Dudley Castle, it has strong royal connections.

"Queen Elizabeths I and II have both visited and several dukes and earls have strong ties with the site, so we felt it fitting to send Prince William and Kate an adoption pack for their namesakes and wish them well for a long and very happy future."

"We’re not quite sure where [penguins William and Kate] will settle once they are fully integrated in the penguin enclosure, so just for fun we have labelled the nesting boxes Clarence House, Buckingham Palace, St James's Palace and Kensington Palace, to give them a fairly regal choice for their first home."

I wonder if penguins William and Kate now insist on being addressed as Duke and Duchess by the penguin commoners?

DZG's Royal Wedding, Dudley Zoological Gardens, 29 April 2011

Manly's dog owners fight new bans

AUSTRALIA - Manly Council's new rules on walking dogs in Manly Cove have drawn heavy criticism from dog owners, who say the controversial decision was made without consultation and that their rights have been infringed.

The rules were introduced in March in an effort to provide better protection for the area's little penguins. The council had voted unanimously in December to enforce a "zero-tolerance approach" for any dog owners caught with their pets off-leash in on-leash areas, and for dogs to be banned from the steps up to Federation Point. It was also decided that other penguin protection measures, such as the installation of CCTV cameras, would be put in place.

Local dog owners say that they want the penguins protected as much as anyone, but that the council introduced the "draconian" rules without consultation.

Manly resident and dog owner Lloyd Keen told The Manly Daily that the group of dog owners was asking for the plans to be revoked until the wider community had the chance to comment.

"We understand the need to look after the penguins but no one’s really thought this through," he said.

"Most people with dogs do all the right things. Once Manly Council gets (the rules) right, then it needs to enforce them because at the moment it doesn’t."

The Manly Daily reported that the dog owners want leashed dogs to be allowed back on Federation Steps, and unleased dogs to be allowed on the Manly Scenic Walkway near Federation Point.

Manly Mayor Jean Hay has indicated that some of the dog bans may be overturned, telling The Manly Daily that leashed dogs should again be allowed onto Federation Steps. She said banning dogs from the steps "is taking away people’s rights".

"Let’s face it, the area belongs to everyone," she said.

Read previous post: "Intensive" program to protect Manly's penguins

Dog walkers fight bans by Peter Bodkin, 22 April 2011, The Manly Daily
Penguin protectors clash with dog lovers by Peter Bodkin, 13 April 2011, The Manly Daily
Dog owners growl over penguins by Peter Bodkin, 11 April 2011, The Manly Daily
Dog ban leads to outraged dog owners by Peter Bodkin, 5 April 2011, The Manly Daily