Thursday, October 9, 2014

Dogs 'biggest threat' to penguins


little blue penguins
Little blue penguins on Marine Parade last month.

little blue penguins
Oamaru blue penguin colony biologist Philippa Agnew, next to a nesting box, says domestic dogs are their biggest threat.
Dogs running on Caroline Bay are the biggest threat to its growing little blue penguin colony, an expert says.

The Timaru District Council allows dogs to be exercised off-leash at Caroline Bay on the beach tidal area from April 1 to September 30.

At last year's annual count of the birds, there were 42 adults and 11 chicks present.

Oamaru blue penguin colony biologist Philippa Agnew said dogs posed the biggest threat to the little penguins and recommended they be kept on leads. "For the colony to develop you need to provide habitat, such as nesting boxes. The area needs to be fenced off just to give them a bit of protection. They need to be protected from predators, domestic dogs, stoats and ferrets. "The birds will do best if they are protected from disturbance by people and their dogs."

Dogs able to access the colony would be a threat, she said, and recommended they be kept on leads.
The colony in Timaru would not be from the Oamaru colony, she said. "Generally once they start breeding in a colony the birds go back to where they came from or close to it. Our penguins have bands on them so we would know if they were in Timaru. "In their first year they can go as far as the Otago Peninsula. They travel as far north as the North Island but come back to breed."

In Oamaru there are 160 breeding pairs. Last week the penguins around Caroline Bay got new lodgings for the next nesting season. Department of Conservation community relations ranger George Iles, along with contractor Kevin Moore, "planted" 20 nesting boxes around the bay.

The sites were kept secret to avoid them becoming a treasure hunt. The boxes were placed within 2m of each other in areas where there was flat ground with cover and camouflage. "A GPS will keep track of the penguins and every month or so the boxes will be checked," Moore said.

Timaru District Council park liaison officer Gary Foster said more work was being done around Marine Parade for the penguins. "Rocks are being placed on the sand adjacent to the viewing area. Some low post and rope barriers have also been placed on the sand. A fence has been erected on the edge of Marine Parade footpath," Foster said. "We are also going to put up some signage to reiterate the message of promoting penguins in the area," he said.

Penguin Support Group member Peter Bennett said he was in the process of drafting brochures about Timaru's penguins.


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