Greetings loyal readers and fellow maremmas. Mummy found this interesting article about those wonderful maremmas saving penguins in Australia.
Dogs have been guarding sheep and other livestock for years. But what happens if you ask them to watch over wild animals?
Wonderful things, that’s what. We bring you this success story from Australia, where Maremma guardian dogs have achieved fantastic results protecting the declining fairy penguin population. So fantastic, in fact, that they’ve just been hired to continue for at least another five years.
Why’s that? Well, the birds they help – also known as the little blue penguin since they’re, ahem, both little and blue – used to flock to Australian beaches to breed, moult and rear their chicks. But as settlers arrived from overseas and brought foreign predators with them, the tiny penguins’ numbers began to plummet.
In one once popular breeding spot, for instance, Middle Island just off Warrnambool on the coast of southeast Australia, hundreds of fairy penguins used to land for mating season. By 2004-05, just four of the birds were seen returning.
The main culprit was the red fox, which was introduced to the mainland by Europeans and had eventually invaded Middle Island.
‘Chooks in dinner suits’
It was then that one local farmer, Allan “Swampy” Marsh, had an inspired idea. He’d been using Maremmas, working dogs bred in Italy to protect livestock, to prevent foxes killing his chickens. So why not get them to look after fairy penguins, too? After all, he argued, to a dog, fairy penguins are just “chooks in dinner suits”.
The local authorities gave his suggestion a go in 2006 and haven’t looked back since. What started as a four-week trial is now into its eighth year and this week won approval to continue until at least 2019, The Standard newspaper reports.
A total of seven dogs have been specially trained to watch over the penguins in pairs. (The current two are Eudy and Tula.) The Maremmas are first introduced to the island as (adorable) puppies, to get used to the terrain and watch the adult dogs at work. Then they meet birds: first chickens, which they learn to play with gently, then penguins, which they observe from a distance.
All their efforts are paying off. The Middle Island Maremma Project, which is responsible for the whole thing, estimates that over 100 penguins returned to the island during the most recent breeding season. The aim is to get to a population of 500 before considering removing the fairy penguins’ canine guards.
Meanwhile, foxes are arguably better off too – instead of being shot on sight, they’re warned off by the dogs, who bark and chase but do not typically attack.
The good news has inspired a feature film, Oddball the Movie, which will be released next year. In the meantime, you can watch a short documentary about the project here: