22 February 2014

Little penguins: welcome to the eco-dome

AUSTRALIA - This month Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, welcomed two captive bred little penguins to its state-of-the-art Biology Discovery Centre.

The pair were relocated on 14 February from the Granite Island Penguin Centre, where they have been hand-reared. They will live in a specially-designed three-storey “eco-dome”, which is connected to animal behaviour laboratories in the $8 million centre.

Flinders Professor in Animal Behaviour Sonia Kleindorfer said the University has a purpose-built enclosure, animal facility staff and a vet on call to ensure the penguins have a smooth transition to the eco-dome.

“Penguins are robust creatures and we are confident they will settle in and adapt well to their new surroundings,” Professor Kleindorfer said.

The penguins will play a major role in the University’s animal behaviour teaching programs, and will also contribute to vital research into the reasons for the decline of little penguin numbers in the wild.

Already housing songbirds and parrots, the penguins’ new home features a sophisticated system of microphones and cameras that transmit live feeds from the animals onto large audio-visual screens in the nearby laboratories, with built-in scales allowing the animals to be weighed without being handled.

Professor Kleindorfer said the cutting-edge teaching and research facility enables students to observe the animals directly and conduct non-invasive data collection.

“Students can learn how to conduct statistical analysis and data presentation without disrupting or harming the animals, and while they’re collecting data they get to watch the animals, which complements their field trips,” Professor Kleindorfer said.

“Our Bachelor of Science (Animal Behaviour) is based on teaching principles that promote best practice and non-invasive observation to offer a fundamental understanding of the role of animal behaviour for assessing animal welfare, survival and evolution.”

The design and landscape of the penguin pond in the eco-dome was developed in consultation with Flinders biology student Simon Brown, an architect and the designer of Melbourne Zoo’s award-winning penguin enclosure.

The facilities within the School of Biological Sciences, including the Biology Discovery Centre, also feature aviaries, aquaculture fish tanks, a native plant garden and a glass house dedicated to sustainable food production and plant physiology research.

Once complete, Professor Kleindorfer said the biology animal facilities will mainly house species that are under threat in the wild from habitat loss and climate change.

“A big part of the reason for having the penguins here is to enhance our collective understanding of the plight of creatures we generally don’t see.

“The aim is to train students so that they have more species-specific knowledge and can apply their skills to targeted conservation biology.”

Source
Flinders welcomes fairy penguins [press release], 14 February 2014, Flinders University

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