28 May 2012

The secret lives of penguins

ANTARCTICA - A year in the life of Antarctic penguins has been caught on camera.

Sixteen “hidden” cameras planted by scientists have survived some of the planet’s harshest winter conditions to capture the annual activities of penguin colonies in Antarctica. Researchers from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) journeyed over 9,000 miles south to set up 16 cameras around Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia.

Penguin research normally takes place in the summer, when scientists can get to the colonies, but they often miss the start of breeding. Now, time-lapse cameras have allowed researchers to record parts of the penguin life cycle which normally go unseen, when humans are not there.

The footage captured gentoo penguins at Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Peninsula and king penguins huddling over winter at Salisbury Plain on South Georgia. The camera at Brown Bluff was covered by a snow drift for part of the winter, but continued to take photos throughout.

ZSL researcher Dr Ben Collen said, “Antarctica is one of the world’s least explored regions, making it all the more important for us to collect worthwhile data on wildlife. New information is vital for making informed conservation decisions, so we are able to best manage species under pressure and deal with the wider global implications of climate change.”

Environmental issues, expansion of fisheries and the danger of disease all pose new threats to penguins, making monitoring them essential. Cheap technology could expand monitoring even when science budgets are tight. The cameras were placed in a variety of positions overlooking colonies in Antarctica, and captured a number of images a day showing the movements of penguins, including their time of arrival, breeding and fledging of young chicks.

Penguinologist Dr Tom Hart added, "Antarctica is larger than Europe, but only a handful of penguin colonies are carefully observed. Using cameras that cost less than £500 each could revolutionise the way we study Antarctic wildlife.”

Scientists from ZSL and the University of Oxford continue the development of a new monitoring system for the southern polar region. They will help to design protected areas in the Antarctic, and answer questions about the response of penguins to their changing world.

The secret lives of penguins, 11 April 2012, Zoological Society of London

Male penguin pair given their own egg

SPAIN - Following in the flipper-steps of New York's Roy and Silo and China's 0310 and 067, male gentoo penguins Inca and Rayas at Faunia nature park in Madrid have been given an egg to incubate.

The Telegraph reports that the penguin pair have built nests together for the last six breeding seasons but of course have had no chick to occupy them.

Yolanda Martin, who cares for the penguins, said, "We wanted them to have something to stay together for - so we got an egg. Otherwise they might have become depressed."

They have taken to their parental role like penguins to water, with Inca incubating the egg and Rayas guarding the nest.

Although Inca and Rayas have been inseparable since they met at Faunia, Martin says that the penguins are not gay, just best friends.

And the penguin pair aren't just raising an egg - their story has become a media sensation, raising Spain's spirits as the country battles its economic difficulties.

'Gay' penguin couple given egg of their own by Nick Collins, 22 May 2012, The Telegraph

Heroic family save yellow-eyed penguin

Titahi the injured penguin.
Photo credit: Department
of Conservation.
NEW ZEALAND - A family who protected an injured yellow-eyed penguin from further dog attacks on a Christchurch beach have been described as heroes by the Department of Conservation (DOC).

DOC ranger Anita Spencer was called out to South Shore last month to find a family standing guard in a circle around the juvenile penguin to prevent unattended dogs getting closer.

"They had kept watch for at least 40 minutes before I arrived - they are heroes in my book," said Spencer.

The penguin, named Titahi, was taken to the Hornby Veterinary Centre and then sent to the Wildlife Health Centre at Massey University for an operation to pin its broken leg.

The surgery was successful, but Titahi now faces several months of rehabilitation before it can be released back into the wild.

Spencer said, "The vets agree that the penguin was attacked by a dog - most likely picked up by its back leg and shaken. It had injuries on its back as well."

The attack on Titahi has prompted a call for dog owners to be more responsible on beaches.

Yellow-eyed penguins nest in small numbers on Banks Peninsula, where local schools, landowners and the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust, Christchurch City Council and DOC are doing predator-trapping to protect them.

"There are a lot of people working really hard to get penguin chicks to fledge, as the first stage of their life is usually the most dangerous time," said Spencer.

"They spend their first few years after fledging exploring the wild, feeding and coming ashore to rest before they settle down to breed. To have this juvenile mauled by a dog on its first journey into the world is really disappointing and completely avoidable."

Christchurch City Council Animal Control Team Leader Mark Vincent said that dog owners must keep their pets on leads, especially in protected areas where vulnerable wildlife is concentrated.

"It's a serious offence for a dog to harass protected wildlife, with penalties including imprisonment for the owner and fines of up to [NZ]$20,000 if wildlife is killed," he said.

Family save mauled yellow-eyed penguin, 10 May 2012, Department of Conservation

26 May 2012

NZ penguin causes trans-Tasman trouble

AUSTRALIA - If New Zealand's Olympic swimmers have the endurance of our penguins, then we're looking good for gold at London 2012.

A Fiordland penguin, named Katrina after her rescuer, was found, starving and injured, on a beach near Mount Gambier, South Australia on 4 May. She would have swum an amazing 3,000km from her New Zealand home.

But her presence across the Tasman caused controversy as wildlife rescuers and authorities argued about her future.

South Australia's Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) requested that she be moved immediately to a zoo to become a permanent exhibit animal.

The Australian Marine Wildlife Research & Rescue Organisation (AMWRRO), which is caring for Katrina, wanted to rehabilitate her and give her another chance in the wild - by either flying her back to New Zealand or releasing her to swim back by herself.

AMWRRO contacted the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC) for advice and offered to pay for Katrina's airfare. However, Michelle Gutsell, leader of the DOC Te Anau office species recovery team, told the NZ Herald that a flight was unnecessary as Katrina's homing instinct gave her a good chance of making it on her own.

"These birds spend a lot of time in the water, they are sea-goers, that's what they do. She will be fine," she said.

In a victory for the AMWRRO, the DENR changed its original decision to move Katrina to a zoo and granted the rescue organisation permission to keep rehabilitating her.

Katrina recently underwent a successful 2.5 hour operation to close up her large abdominal wound. Now all the "grumpy" penguin has to do is heal, grow back her waterproof feathers and regain weight.

Then she'll be ready for the long swim home.

Penguin carer told to let Katrina swim back by Cherie Howie, 20 May 2012, NZ Herald
Katrina's surgery success, 18 May 2012, AMWRRO
New Zealand penguin making waves in Australia by Chloe Johnson, 13 May 2012, NZ Herald
Katrina is not going anywhere, 9 May 2012, AMWRRO
The AMWRRO battle to keep Katrina wild!, 8 May 2012, AMWRRO

Penguin No.337 back inside

JAPAN - It had a good run, but No.337's life on the lam is over.

AFP reported that the fugitive Humboldt penguin was captured on Thursday 24 May. It escaped from Tokyo Sea Life Park in early March.

Park staff caught the penguin on the bank of the Ego-gawa river, only 8 km from its home.

During its time on the run (swim?) the young bird had been sighted at least 30 times, and earlier this month even managed to elude the coastguard, which followed it for about an hour before losing sight of it.

Takashi Sugino, the park's spokesman, said that the penguin was uninjured and appeared to be healthy. It will undergo medical checks and spend time in quarantine before being returned to the (currently) 134-strong colony.

To prevent future escapes, the park has fortified the edges of the penguin enclosure with more rocks and sandbags. But will such measures be enough to contain the intrepid No.337?

Read previous posts

Japan's AWOL penguin back in captivity, 25 May 2012, AFP

21 May 2012

No.337 spotted alive and well

JAPAN - Fugitive penguin No.337 has been sighted in Tokyo Bay two months after escaping from Tokyo Sea Life Park.

Video footage taken by Japan's Coast Guard earlier in May shows the apparently healthy Humboldt penguin frolicking in the water.

Kazuhiro Sakamoto, the park's deputy director, identified the penguin on the video as No.337.  

"You can see it's got the same ring around its flipper and identical facial patterns," he told Reuters. 

Although if it wasn't No.337 then one might wonder how many escaped penguins there are in Tokyo ...

Sakamoto said that the adventurous penguin didn't look like it had lost any weight. "So it looks as if it's been living quite happily in the middle of Tokyo Bay."

Although the park had received hundreds of reports of sightings of No.337 after its escape, only about 30 of the reports were thought to be genuine.

Read previous posts

Fugitive penguin 337 spotted alive in Tokyo Bay, Reuters, 16 May 2012

12 May 2012

Penguin deaths at Phillip Island

AUSTRALIA - Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) is investigating the death of 27 little penguins at the Phillip Island Nature Park.

The little penguins were found at Cat Bay, Shelly Beach and the Penguin Parade Car Park yesterday. Two dead water rats were also found.

DSE Wildlife Officers are investigating the cause of death however preliminary observations of the injuries are consistent with a dog attack.

Little penguins and water rats are protected in Victoria.

If a dog attacks wildlife on public land, the owner could face fines of up to AU$3000 under the Wildlife Act 1975.

Penguin deaths at Phillip Island, 10 May 2012, Department of Sustainability and Environment