Tackling the fox problem for penguins
A biodiversity expert from the University of Bristol in the UK is in Victoria to help protect penguins from foxes.
Stephen Harris is at Gippsland's Phillip Island this week, where he believes the island can become fox free.
He says a combination of baits and shooting has made a significant indent in the fox population.
"They have a reputation for being very clever animals, and it's well earned," he says
"They very soon become wary of baits, they avoid areas where people are spotlighting so they don't get shot. So the survivors that are left are extremely difficult to catch, so it's quite a challenge finding the last of them."
Bushy Beach track closedSlips and slumping have closed the Bushy Beach track, used by thousands of people each year to view yellow-eyed penguins nesting on the tip of Cape Wanbrow, above Oamaru.
Heavy rain over the past two weeks has washed slips on to the Department of Conservation (Doc) track and caused slumping, making it dangerous.
The track has been used by 40,000 visitors since November, and is one of the most popular Doc tracks in North Otago.
It leads to a viewing platform and hide where people can watch the penguins returning to their nests.
A side track leading down to Bushy Beach has also been cut off by a large slip.
Doc rangers Helen Jones and Kevin Pearce yesterday assessed the state of the track after further slips during last weekend's heavy rain.
About three-quarters of the 400m-long track has been damaged.
Mr Pearce said the damage to the track was the worst he had seen in his 20 years with the department in North Otago.
They will now prepare costings and options to get the track reopened, which may not happen until August at the earliest.
One option is clearing the existing track, repairing the fence, shifting portions of the track away from where the cliff face down to Bushy Beach had eroded, and resurfacing it.
The other is building a new track along the top of the cliff face to replace the damaged section.
Mr Pearce said clearing the track would be a big task.
All the material from the slips would have to be carted away.
There was potential for further damage if there was more heavy rain, he said.
Battered penguins flown to dry haven
Earlier this week SANParks reported that 600 chicks, with only a down feather covering and still lacking their waterproof feathers, had died in the icy rain and wind.
The conditions were exacerbated because the Algoa Bay island is very flat and open to the elements, the run-off is poor and the vegetation usually used for shelter is threadbare due to the drought, said spokesman Megan Taplin.
The endangered species traditionally burrowed into layers of guano, but this was stripped and sold as fertiliser by “white gold” traders in an industry which ran from the mid-1800s to the 1980s.
The good news is that the weather has cleared, no more deaths have been discovered on Bird Island, and only 19 dead birds have been found on nearby St Croix Island, Taplin said yesterday.
“Park rangers stationed on Bird Island used all means possible to alleviate the situation in the absence of assistance from land due to rough seas. Rangers provided temporary shelters for penguin chicks using materials on the island, and also drained penguin nests of excess water where possible.”
As the sky started to clear yesterday morning, two injured adult penguins and five abandoned chicks were airlifted from the island by helicopter and taken to Bayworld in Port Elizabeth.
The birds were received by Trudie Malan, of Penguins Eastern Cape, who ensured they were stabilised before setting off with them to the organisation’s rehabilitation centre at Cape St Francis.
Taplin said rangers would be assessing the situation on Bird Island again today when they should be able to reach the island by boat. A decision will then be taken on whether to evacuate more chicks.
Meanwhile, the 3000 penguin breeding pairs on St Croix have been less affected by the weather, with only 19 chick deaths recorded. St Croix’s conical shape ensures quick run-off of rainwater, thus sparing chicks from the worst effects of the weather, Taplin said.
“Although the death of penguin chicks due to extreme weather is a naturally occurring phenomenon, the colonies in Algoa Bay are worrying considering the recent reclassification of the African penguin as an endangered species.”
Addo Elephant National Park’s St Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in South Africa, while Bird Island harbours about 700 breeding pairs as well as the world’s largest Cape gannet breeding colony.
Leading seabird biologist Dr Norbert Klages, a trustee of the SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre at Cape Recife, said the tragedy could have been avoided.
“If there was even a minimum of population management done by SANParks, this need not have happened. I’m talking artificial burrows, nesting material, any kind of shelter and planning ahead when it is known bad weather is coming.”
SANPark’s successful and internationally acclaimed efforts to save the black and white rhino should be used as a template for “best practice” with the African penguin.
“It’s high time SANParks reconnected with this old approach of doing active work on the endangered wildlife populations in their care and applying the skills they have.”
Samrec would also have taken in hundreds and cared for them.
“I’ve challenged SANParks to do something of this nature for years. It is disgusting. If funding is a problem in terms of intervention here, local folk love their penguins and I’m sure they would be more than willing to help raise funds.”
During the 1990s, Bird Island had a peak active nest count of about 3700 “before the over-fishing and climate change stuff really kicked in. Now there’s only about 800 left.”