22 November 2011

The mystery of the Mystery Bay penguin head

AUSTRALIA - The somewhat gruesome discovery of a severed, decayed penguin head on a beach at, fittingly, Mystery Bay in Narooma, New South Wales, has led to a ... well, mystery.

After Christina Potts and Mandy Anderson found the crested penguin head, the two Coastcare volunteers turned detective to try to find out which species of penguin it belongs to and how it ended up in Mystery Bay.

Each of the experts they have contacted so far has tentatively identified the head as that of a Fiordland penguin, a species that lives on New Zealand's South Island and Stewart Island. These penguins are rare visitors to Australia; if they do make the trans-Tasman trip, it's usually because of a severe weather event.

Another possibility is that it is a Snares penguin, a species which is endemic to the Snares Islands, a subantarctic island group off the coast of New Zealand.

Investigations continue, but the ultimate plan is for the penguin's remains to join the avian collection at the Australian Museum in Sydney.

A penguin mystery for Mystery Bay at Narooma, Narooma News, 16 November 2011

Penguins rescued from Rena to be released

NEW ZEALAND - Maritime New Zealand has announced that some of the cleaned little penguins and other birds rescued from Rena oil spill will be returned home in a staged release starting this week.

National Oiled Wildlife Response Team Coordinator Kerri Morgan said birds would only be released after assessment of both the individual animals and their habitats.

Each individual bird would undergo blood tests and other veterinarian checks to ensure it was ready for release.

All penguins would also have to pass the “six hour test” where they swim for six hours without a break before being assessed to ensure their waterproofing was returned.

“The oil coats the birds’ feathers, which are designed to act as a waterproof coat. After the birds are washed, they preen themselves and that helps the feathers regain their waterproofing,” Miss Morgan said.

Birds that have been given the clean bill of health for release also have to be re-introduced to salt water.
The pools the birds had been swimming in were fresh water, but to get the animals ready to return to the sea, salt was introduced into their pools over several days until they were swimming in water with the same salinity as the sea.

The habitats that the birds are released into have been carefully checked to ensure they are ready to receive wildlife. Penguins and dotterels are territorial and will return to the habitat they came from.

“It’s important that we’ve removed as much oil as possible from their habitats before they are released.

“Each bird has been micro-chipped and the location they were found in noted – we will be releasing all the birds back to the habitat they came from,” Miss Morgan said.

“We have been going out with the oil spill response teams for the past week or so to check that the places we want to return them to are ready.”

Miss Morgan said although the risk of a further spill of the residual oil on board Rena was still there, this risk had to be balanced against the risk of keeping the birds in captivity for too long.

“These are wild animals and they belong in the wild. We know there is still a chance that more oil may spill from Rena – but we don’t know when and we don’t know where that might wash up.

“We can’t keep wild birds in captivity for an indefinite period of time without running the risk of disease or injury.”

Miss Morgan said the first 60 penguins would be released tomorrow and it was hoped more would be released later in the week.

“We still have birds that need to finish waterproofing, so the release programme will take a while yet.”
The wildlife facility at Te Maunga would slowly be dismantled as the cleaned birds moved through the washing, re-waterproofing and salt water process and became ready for release.

“We will maintain a few permanent structures there until Rena is off the reef and there is no longer any risk of an oil spill from the wreck,” Miss Morgan said.

“That way, we will be ready to rebuild the facility and mount a response if needed.”

Rena update #105, 21 November 2011, Maritime New Zealand

Wildlife ICU keeps penguins in top shape

NEW ZEALAND - Most of the more than 400 birds rescued from the Rena oil spill and being looked after at the oiled wildlife facility in Te Maunga are now in good health, but a small number require ongoing veterinary care in the intensive care unit.

Massey University wildlife veterinarian Micah Jensen said there are eight little blue penguins in the unit that have a range of ailments.

“There are birds that have picked up respiratory infections, one with a cloacal prolapse, another has a corneal ulcer,” Ms Jensen said.

Birds in the unit are monitored closely. “We give them all checks every morning and evening,” she said. “They get excellent intensive care, as we are around the patients all day long.”

Ms Jensen, who is one of four wildlife veterinarians in Massey’s resident programme, said the experience at the facility is invaluable.

“As a wildlife vet resident it is intensely rewarding to do this kind of work,” she said.

“The penguins are adorable, they are very full of character and are really nice to work with. Each one is quite individual and they are really personable, spirited and vocal. They let you know if you’re doing something they don’t like, there’s no grey area.”

The vast majority of birds in the ICU are getting better, she said.

“We are picking up problems at the beginning so are able to treat them early, which really helps. These birds are lucky to have skilled, observant people around them.

“It’s a great feeling when a penguin is well enough to graduate to the outdoor aviaries.”

Wildlife ICU keeps penguins in top shape, 14 November 2011, Massey University

21 November 2011

Caught in a lad romance

African penguins at Toronto Zoo.
Photo credit: William Pitcher
Some rights reserved
CANADA - Toronto Zoo's answer to Central Park Zoo's Roy and Silo may cause just as much controversy as the famous New York penguin couple.

Male African penguins Buddy and Pedro are part of Toronto Zoo's 12-strong penguin exhibit that opened in May this year. They caused a media stir when the zoo announced this month that they were showing signs of a "pair bonding" relationship - that is, courtship and mating behaviour like a male-female pair - but would have to be separated for breeding purposes.

Toronto Zoo is part of the Species Survival Plan for the endangered African penguin, so Buddy and Pedro are supposed to mate with females - not each other - and make penguin chicks.

Pedro is 10 years old; Buddy is 20 and has previously mated with a female. Being two of the zoo's six male penguins, both are considered important breeding material.

The zoo may have thought its plan to separate the birds sounded quite sensible - but the public outcry was immediate. Online petitions and surveys all had the same message: Don't split up Buddy and Pedro!

In response, the zoo's curator of invertebrates and birds, Tom Mason, told PinkNews.co.uk that although it would be "necessary" to separate the penguin pair if they showed no signs of mating with females, it will be "only temporary".

“There will be a limited time of separation but it will not be permanent. No matter what happens all the penguins will be re-united by spring," Mr Mason said.

“If Pedro and Buddy wish to get back together, they will be welcome to do so.”

Meanwhile in the Southern Hemisphere an Aussie same-sex penguin couple is out, proud and allowed to live together.

Little penguins Brendan and Andy at Pet Porpoise Pool in Coffs Harbour, New South Wales have been sharing the same burrow for the past 12 months.

Marketing managing Angela Van den Bosch told The Coffs Coast Advocate, "The team is very supportive of their wish to live together as they are genuinely caring of each other."

"Brendan has taken on the responsibility of building the nest and renovating their hutch to make it a home. While Andy is the provider, and in the past fathered chicks with a few of the females, it is apparent he has now decided that he prefers the company of Brendan."

Perhaps this time next year, Buddy and Pedro may have the same love story to tell.

Toronto Zoo says it will reunite "gay" penguins in the spring by Kathleen Jercich, 16 November 2011, Care2.com
Canada's gay penguins to be "reunited by spring" by Stephen Gray, 11 November 2011, PinkNews.co.uk
Same-sex penguin pair fascinates zookeepers by Donovan Vincent, 4 November 2011, Toronto Star
The perfect pair of penguins, 28 October 2011, The Coffs Coast Advocate

19 November 2011

Life's looking up for penguins Split, Apple and Rock

NEW ZEALAND - A little penguin family who lost their dad to a dog attack is doing well thanks to dedicated humans and a dedicated penguin mum.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry veterinarian Mana Stratton and her mother Frances have been looking after the three penguins after a dog attack at Split Apple, near Kaiteriteri on the South Island, robbed the chicks of a parent and the female adult of a critical mate in October, the Nelson Mail reported.

The chicks and their dead father were found by a family, who reported the attack to the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Tasman District Council. Once the mother returned to the nest, the penguins were brought to DOC, who took them to Ms Stratton. Penguin chicks need both parents to raise them, so the mother needed help if the chicks were to survive.

The family who rescued the penguins have visited them and the children named the birds Split, Apple and Rock.

"Rock is the adult penguin as she is the 'rock' in the chick's life," Miss Stratton told the Nelson Mail.

Ms Stratton's aim has been to give Rock enough food that she can feed Split and Apple normally by regurgitation. Rock has been such a good mum that the chicks now weight more than her, and Ms Stratton said she will need to gain more weight before she is released.

The Tasman District Council has since identified the dogs responsible for the attack. Regulatory manager Adrian Humphries told the Nelson Mail that steps had been taken to ensure it didn't happen again. The dogs' owner was horrified and had given a donation to a penguin welfare fund.

Rescued penguins blossom by Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail, 16 November 2011
Vet battles for penguins' survival by Tracy Neal, Nelson Mail, 27 October 2011

07 November 2011

Lucky finds Halloween a perfect fit

Lucky wearing a custom-made
shoe. Photo credit: Sheri Horiszny/
Santa Barbara Zoo
USA - Just in time for Halloween, Lucky the Humboldt penguin from Santa Barbara Zoo has been given new, spooky, shoes.

Sporting orange and black color schemes, his new shoes feature a spooky jack-o’-lantern face inside shoe manufacturer Teva’s distinctive “hand” logo.

Lucky has an impaired foot and was given custom-made shoes designed by the adventure footwear company in May to help him get around.

“We couldn’t be happier to watch as Lucky adjusts to his healthier and happier life with his new shoe,” Teva public relations manager Jaime Eschette said.

“It’s only fitting to celebrate with his first Halloween shoe to get him in the spirit for the holidays.”
Eschette said that Thanksgiving and other holiday shoes are also on the drawing board at Teva.

“These shoes may have saved Lucky’s life,” zoo CEO Rich Block said. “Now he can, jump and swim like any other penguin, albeit a very stylish one. He’s become a favorite of our guests and our staff."

Santa Barbara Zoo's Lucky the penguin fitted with Halloween shoe by Julia McHugh for the Santa Barbara Zoo, 31 October 2011, Noozhawk

Read related article: There was a young penguin who needed a shoe

Eco the dog: penguin protection weapon

AUSTRALIA - The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is unleashing a new secret weapon that will assist in monitoring and protecting the last remaining little penguin colony on mainland NSW: an English springer spaniel named Eco.

NPWS Regional Manager Gary Dunnett said Eco is the first dedicated penguin, fox and cat sniffer dog in Australia. At the end of October she started working at Sydney’s North Head.

“One of the challenging things about monitoring the little penguin population is determining the exact size of the colony and most importantly the breeding pairs,” Mr Dunnett explained.

He said Eco will be helping NPWS Rangers to search out hidden and remote penguin burrows so they can monitor the colony’s breeding population and where they are nesting.

“This will allow us to monitor the chicks, get a better handle on whether the population is stable and help us plan the most effective pest programs like fox and dog controls.

“Little penguins are notoriously secretive - leaving for their fishing expeditions on night fall and returning in the pre-dawn light."

Mr Dunnett said that Eco will be used to try to find nests not previously known about, allowing the NPWS to monitor any adults and chicks and also to map where they are nesting against where the currently protected areas are.

One of the greatest threats facing Manly's little penguin colony are foxes and domestic dogs. Eco has been given hours of rigorous testing to ensure she will not harm the penguins once she locates them.

“All dogs have certain natural instincts that make them dangerous to wildlife and it takes long and arduous training to ensure they are suitable for this type of work in just the same way that guide dogs or police dogs are meticulously trained,” Mr Dunnett said.

“When Eco is working in national parks she wears a high-visibility coat that identifies her as having special permission to be there and that she is working for conservation purposes,” he said.

Monitoring the Manly colony is only possible during the breeding season and at the site of their nests, as once in the water outside of the breeding season the penguins can travel incredible distances.

Eco is also a trained fox and cat detection dog so with a word from her owner and handler Lisa O’Neill, she can swap from sniffing out penguins to tracking down one of their main predators.

Eco was trained by Steve Austin, whose detection dogs have been used with great success in the past couple of years to detect foxes at North Head to protect the little penguins and the long-nosed bandicoots.

“Eco is happiest when she is working – the hardest part is getting her to rest,” Mr Austin said.

“She can cover a stretch of a kilometre in about 40 minutes when looking for penguins, and about 500m2 an hour when looking for foxes. This is, of course, governed by the terrain.

Mr Austin rates Eco as one of the best dogs he has ever trained in terms of her ability and enthusiasm.

“In one hour, she can cover an area that would take 10 people four hours to cover,” he said.

Secret weapon unleashed at North Head for penguin protection, NPWS, 31 October 2011

03 November 2011

Gentoo pops in for a brief NZ break

NEW ZEALAND - Happy Feet must be spreading the word around Antarctica that New Zealand is a good place to visit.

A gentoo penguin, usually found on the subantarctic islands and the Antarctic Peninsula, recently turned up on a North Otago beach. To the delight of locals, the bird didn't seem bothered by humans.

However, unlike Happy Feet, the gentoo left the beach the same day it arrived (and, I assume, didn't eat any sand).

According to bird watcher Paul Mutch, whose wife first spotted this penguin, a gentoo was sighted on the Otago coast at Warrington about 40 years ago, only the fifth sighting since 1905.

Rare penguin appearance quite something by Rebecca Fox, Otago Daily Times, 27 October 2011

Penguins used to monitor ocean health

AUSTRALIA - A colony of little penguins on Mistaken Island near Albany, Western Australia, is being used to monitor the health of the ocean in light of a substantial dredging program that is due to commence in Albany Harbour early next year.

The citizen science project, led by the WA Conservation Council, gathered some initial data in mid-October and will continue through the before, during and after phases of the dredging program.

Penguins to help monitor health of King George Sound by Andrew Collins, ABC News, 19 October 2011

Penguin counting on the peninsula

NEW ZEALAND - Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust staff and volunteers have spent the past week searching for nesting penguins in the Trust's reserves on the Otago Peninsula.

Knowing where the penguins were nesting enabled the trust to monitor the health of the population.

Playing hide and seek with yellow-eyed penguins by Rebecca Fox, Otago Daily Times, 15 October 2011

Crowd control for St Kilda's penguins

AUSTRALIA - Little penguins at St Kilda Pier will get extra protection this summer with a new gate that will help control visitor numbers.

Kept open during the day, the gate will be used only at dusk to muster the crowds so they are allowed on to the breakwater in smaller numbers.

Earthcare St Kilda president Kim Cowie said minimising the impact of visitors on the penguin colony was crucial as each year the crowds get bigger.

New gate to protect penguins without pier at St Kilda by Sally Spalding, Port Phillip Leader, 5 October 2011

Little penguin colony very little indeed

AUSTRALIA - Manly's penguin wardens say that only one breeding pair of little penguins remain in Manly Cove West from the colony that moved there 20 years ago. The good news is that Mr Stickybeak and his partner do have a nest of eggs.

Dogs and boats have taken their toll, say the penguin wardens. Conservationists tried to get dogs banned from the area but a lobby by dog walkers meant they could still use the area with leashes.  

The Stickybeaks are believed to be among some 60 pairs in the wider Manly area, the only mainland population in NSW. 

Unhappy feet: is the harbour a fairytale ending? by Tim Barlass, Launceston Times, 25 September 2011

Volunteers need to educate penguin seekers

NEW ZEALAND - Waitaki Tourism Association is calling for volunteers to help educate visitors about how to treat little penguins and other wildlife around Oamaru Harbour.

The initiative follows increasing feedback from visitors to the Oamaru Penguin Colony who, as they leave the colony, see other people outside who are chasing or blocking birds trying to reach their nests.

Penguin-minders to educate visitors by David Bruce, Otago Daily Times, 17 September 2011

Penguin chicks found mauled to death

AUSTRALIA - Fifteen dead little penguin chicks have been found near the Kingscote breeding colony on Kangaroo Island, South Australia.

The Kangaroo Island Natural Resources Management Board (KINRMB) said that as penguins only fledge between two to four chicks per year, this will have a devastating impact on this section of Kingscote’s colony.

It is thought the chicks were mauled by a dog or a cat. There was a similar attack in the same area just over a year ago.

Motion cameras set up in some of Kingcote's colonies as part of a project aimed at identifying some of the management issues associated with colonies in Gulf St Vincent have detected feral and domestic cats and several dogs sniffing around penguin burrows. On at least two occasions the cameras have captured footage of a domestic cat attacking penguin chicks.

The Natural Resources Management Board said it will continue to investigate and  hopefully identify the culprit responsible for these latest deaths.

A little penguin census will be underway soon, with counting of the birds being done at four locations on the island.

Catastrophe for chicks, The Kangaroo Islander, 6 October 2011
Penguin chicks killed on Kangaroo Island, ABC News, 7 October 2011

Penguin parents abandon bald chick

CHINA - An emperor penguin chick born without feathers at the LHT Pole Aquarium was abandoned by its parents just days after its birth. But thanks to the efforts of keepers at the aquarium in the Lianoning Province, it has been accepted back into the family. The keepers decided that the chick's lack of feathers and weak condition were due to difficulties digesting food and absorbing nutrition. After a month of round-the-clock care, the chick was much stronger and grew feathers, and was then reintroduced to the family group.

Bald baby penguin abandoned by parents, AOL Travel, 21 September 2011

One of Manly's penguins killed by dog

AUSTRALIA - Hidden cameras will be placed at North Head in Manly, New South Wales, after a dog killed a little penguin in late August. A Taronga Zoo autopsy showed a small dog killed the penguin. The tagged 13-year-old male was was part of a breeding pair at North Head.

Penguin killed by a dog at North Head, Manly Dail, 2 September 2011 

Penguin decides to cruise

NEW ZEALAND - Tour company Real Journeys tells passengers on their Doubtful Sound cruise there is a chance they might catch a glimpse of a rare Fiordland penguin, but I bet they didn't expect to see one of the actual boat!

The unusual tourist, nicknamed Larry (as in "happy as ..."), was spotted by a passenger aboard the Navigator, waiting at the top of the steps to be let through the gates onto the cruise boat.

A Real Journeys spokeswoman said that the Navigator crew had seen 23 Fiordland penguins on Seymour Island, showing that predator control is working.

Penguin hitches a ride, Otago Daily Times, 28 October 2011