06 November 2014

Killer stoat or ferret devastates local little penguin population

Little penguin
Credit: Department of Conservation
NEW ZEALAND – Autopsies conducted by Massey University's Wildbase have shown that the lethal wounds on 29 little penguins, found dead along the coast at Doctors Point near Dunedin, were caused by mustelid jaws.

Department of Conservation (DOC) Conservation Services Manager in Dunedin, David Agnew, said that the deaths will have a serious impact on the local little penguin population and demonstrate the devastation even a single stoat or ferret can cause to New Zealand's native wildlife.

“It’s going to take many years for the population to recover from this rampant attack – quite likely from just one stoat or ferret. It shows that these mammalian pests are hardwired to kill our wildlife for food or sport.”

With assistance from the Dunedin City Council’s dog control team, DOC rangers have put a motion-sensitive camera in place to record the killer. DOC staff have also placed traps along the stretch of coastline to protect surviving birds.

“At this time of year penguins are particularly vulnerable as they are raising chicks. We’ve lost these birds plus any offspring they would have added to the population in years to come,” said Mr Agnew.

“This is a popular dog-walking beach and we ask the community to be particularly careful to protect the remaining birds by keeping their pets under control and reporting any predator sightings."

The deaths were first reported to DOC by a member of the public who called the DOC hotline (0800 362 468) on the morning of 1 November. More dead birds were found in subsequent visits to the area by DOC rangers and the Council’s dog control team.

In happier little penguin news this week, NZ Conservation Minister Maggie Barry has voted for the world's smallest penguin in Forest & Bird’s Seabird of the Year 2014. This year the annual poll to select New Zealand’s favourite bird is focusing on seabirds. Nearly half of the species that breed in New Zealand are in danger of becoming extinct.

“All of our marvellous seabirds deserve a vote but I’ve chosen to back the little blue. Although it’s the most common penguin around our coastlines, the species is in gradual decline,” said Ms Barry.

“Our seabird species are constantly under threat from predators. The killing of so many blue penguins this week is a timely reminder of how ‘eco-invaders’ can devastate precious birdlife and local habitat.”

The Seabird of the Year poll runs until 24 November and the launch coincides with Conservation Week 2014.

“I encourage people to vote for the seabird they love the best. Forest & Bird’s excellent work in protecting seabird diversity is to be applauded,” said Ms Barry.

Sources
Stoat or ferret behind little penguin deaths [media release], 5 November 2014, Department of Conservation
Little blue penguin is the vote of choice [media release], 5 November 2014, New Zealand National Party

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