Monday, August 18, 2014

The world loves our real-life fairy penguin story

MIDDLE Island Warrnambool was merely a backwater blip on the global scientific barometer until a brave trial using Maremma dogs to save endangered penguins from extinction.

Dr Anne Wallis presented Middle Island’s penguin story at Oxford University. 140818DW30  Picture: DAMIAN WHITE
Dr Anne Wallis presented Middle Island’s penguin story at Oxford University. 140818DW30 Picture: DAMIAN WHITE

The success not only triggered international media interest, but sent ripples through the scientific community. 

Now it has gone to the hallowed halls of Oxford University, where two lecturers from Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus received an enthusiastic response to a presentation on the project this month.

Dr Anne Wallis spoke at  the prestigious Oxford Round Table attended by representatives from several nations, bringing humour  to her presentation by calling it “The little blue fairy penguin and the big bad fox.”

Accompanied by colleague Dr Julie Mondon, the presentation opened opportunity for the work to be recognised in an academic journal for the first time.

Dr Wallis, who has written a 4800-word draft manuscript on the project, has received an invitation to publish from a US-based journal, which would then open doors to other well-respected publications.
“There are exciting opportunities,” Dr Wallis told The Standard yesterday. “Publication in a scientific journal would make the project story available to a much wider audience. “The round table theme was about sustainability and for some of the issues like ours it’s about grassroots activity which finds solutions. “With community support you can accomplish a lot. There were benefits we never ever anticipated —  tourism and publicity spin-offs.”

Deakin University was involved in the lead-up and implementation of the 2006 trial when two Maremma dogs, previously used to guard commercial poultry, were taken to the island to ward off foxes and stray dogs.

Penguin numbers since 1999 had fallen from 500-plus to only four. However, the bold conservation experiment almost came undone a year later when 10 birds were found dead and some people blamed the dogs. “There was a risk in putting the dogs out on the island, but it was no greater risk than allowing foxes to take the last few penguins,” Dr Wallis said. Since the introduction of the guard dogs, penguin numbers have risen to about 180. 

Several international media outlets have written or filmed the island and dogs and in May a film crew arrived to shoot scenes for a cinematic production called Oddball which is due for release next year.


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