Coming in after a swim by Peter Orr
IT IS 4.30pm on the dot and eager National Parks and Wildlife Service team members are being briefed on their mission.After close to three weeks of a military-like operation, they’re closing in on their target, the thrill-killing fox that has slaughtered 27 little penguins at North Head.
Thermal imaging has detected the fox around Store Beach, near the boxes where the penguins nest.
A sniper has killed one fox, but they believe the main killer is still at large.
Other parks staff and volunteers will spend the cold night standing guard at Manly Wharf, Collins Beach, Store Beach and Q Station.
The team is briefed on safety: be on the lookout for ticks, watch footing on cliff edges and mossy rocks and confirm your contact number.
By 5pm they are in position and the operation starts. Volunteer and penguin warden Murray Sharp is positioned at Collins Beach and will stay there until 3am. He is accompanied by three others to help keep watch.
“The human scent has been working a treat. Since we’ve ramped up the operation we haven’t lost a penguin,” Ms Tyas says.
Mr Sharp says moving around the headland in the middle of the night has been a challenge.
“One of the nests is around the corner and with high tide I had to go the back way to find it. I ended up on a cliff edge and realised I was in the wrong spot,” Mr Sharp says.
Navigating in pitch black surroundings isn’t the only obstacle. In winter, the chill is bone numbing.
She says its vital to protecting the penguins.
“They deserve to be able to survive in this environment and not be threatened by a feral intruder,” Ms Prior says.
She had a terrifying incident on her first night.
“We thought the fox had turned up because the penguins made such distressing calls,” she says.
“We thought, oh no, he’s here, and started madly screaming to try and distract him, it was really scary.”
Luckily, the penguins remained safe – the calls were likely to be mating calls.
Ms Tyas says breeding season leaves the penguins quite vulnerable.
When the penguins come in, they’re often in groups, and she says while they do it for safety, the method is a little flawed.
“The fox has the opportunity to get six or seven at a time because they all arrive together.”
Ms Tyas says it’s only a matter of time before he’s caught. “I think we’re very close.”