Sunday, June 2, 2013

Granite Island penguins facing extinction

Granite Island penguins
Granite Island Penguin Centre manager Dorothy Longden with a Little Penguin. Picture: Brooke Whatnall Source: adelaidenow
A COLONY of Granite Island's fairy penguins will be bred in captivity in a desperate attempt to save the birds from extinction. 
Flinders University plans to construct a multimillion-dollar biological sustainability centre at its campus over the next year where it can house, breed and release the native penguins - a key tourist attraction at Victor Harbor - back to Granite Island.

The university is in the process of obtaining a permit from the SA Environment Department to breed and release the animals whose population, according to yearly surveys, has crashed from 1548 in 2001 to just 26 on Granite Island last year.

Flinders University researchers are seeking corporate sponsors and community support to raise funds for more widespread and definitive research into what is behind the decline in penguin populations.
University School of Biological Studies Professor Sonia Kleindorfer said the breeding program would be pointless if they could not pinpoint the reasons for the penguins' disappearance and fix the problem.

"We don't want to sit idly by while we have the opportunity to intervene and set up a breeding operation," she said.

"It would be foolish to wait for an answer (on the cause).

"We need to pursue all options at the moment."

The breeding program would retrieve injured penguins undergoing rehabilitation on Granite Island to make sure the penguins they breed are suitable for the island's habitat.

Granite Island Penguin Centre co-ordinator Dorothy Longden expects a survey in August will show the resident penguin population to be similar to last year's.

She is desperate to see a breeding program begin and said the decline in penguins has hit tourism. Ms Longden said the centre had reduced tours and cut staff numbers.

"We're basically using about four guides at a time," she said. "We can't have 13 guides like we used to have."

Dr Kleindorfer said feral cats, marine predators such as New Zealand fur seals, diseases carried by domesticated animals and the abundance of fish stocks on which the penguins feed were all among possible causes for the drop in bird numbers.

She said about $150,000 to $200,000 was needed each year to conduct the proper research.
Dr Kleindorfer and Victor Harbor Mayor Graham Philp will host a Save the Granite Island Penguins fundraiser and awareness event on June 14 at McCracken Country Club.


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