Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Kangaroo Island little penguins at giant risk as colony drops to 20

Kangaroo Island's little penguin colony is down from hundreds of birds to about 20, and faces extinction.
Kangaroo Island's little penguin colony is down from hundreds of birds to about 20, and faces extinction.
THE little penguin faces extinction in South Australian waters within five years unless urgent action is taken to save the species, Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre owner John Ayliffe says.
He said the loss of penguins in Kingscote would force him to close the Kangaroo Island Penguin Centre and its tours on or before November 30.

Mr Ayliffe said the colony had dropped alarmingly from hundreds of birds a decade ago to only about 20 birds.

Little penguin colonies were being decimated around the state, including on Kangaroo Island, at Granite Island off Victor Harbor and at Pearson Island.

Mr Ayliffe laid a large part of the blame for the demise of the little penguin on the New Zealand fur seal colonies.

"The damage being caused by the New Zealand fur seal in marine colonies across the state is as serious as the River Murray issue because of the devastating impact on the marine environment,'' he said.

"If you've got a predator doubling in number every five years, there comes a time when they will eat themselves out of house and home."

He added people should be allowed to harass the seals away from Kingscote for five years to see what happens to the little penguin colony.

"We protect ourselves from bushfires and we should do the same here,'' he said.

Victor Harbor mayor Graham Philp said the Granite Island little penguin colony had slumped to less than 10 birds, down from thousands of birds 10 years ago. "Something needs to happen to preserve what we have got and build up the colony," Mr Philp said.

But despite the devastation, little penguin eggs at the Granite Island Penguin Centre are being routinely destroyed because the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources doesn't want them bred in captivity.

A colony of fur seals on Seal Rock, just off Granite Island, has been identified as the highest risk factor for the penguins, Mr Philp said.

He calculated Victor Harbor was losing $5 million a year due to the problem. Sustainability, Environment and Conservation Minister Ian Hunter said some of the little penguin colonies in South Australia were in decline.

"The cause of this is not yet fully understood, though a research study commissioned by the Adelaide Mt Lofty Ranges NRM Board is under way," he said.

Mr Hunter said the South Australian Government did not support culling fur seals and that attempts made overseas and interstate to relocate seals or scare them away have had little success.


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