Monday, December 22, 2014

Tough times for hoiho penguins

Two 6-week-old yellow-eyed penguin chicks at Penguin Place on Otago Peninsula. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Two 6-week-old yellow-eyed penguin chicks at Penguin Place on Otago Peninsula. Photo by Gerard O'Brien.
Finding a tale of survival against all the odds is not hard when looking at Otago's endangered yellow-eyed penguin population. There is the one that was found thin, with bad cuts to its flippers, in March and, thanks to treatment, survived to mate this year and has two healthy chicks.

Or the Penguin Bay bird that was unable to feed its chicks because of a large open wound on its leg and a swollen foot.

After a visit to St Kilda Vet Clinic to get the wound stitched and cleaned and time at Penguin Place's penguin hospital, it tipped the scales at 9kg and was last seen incubating two eggs.

Not to mention the 10-year-old male from Boulder Beach that had not missed a breeding season since 2005.

It was found severely underweight this year and went to Penguin Place for life-saving supplementary feeding. ''This season [he] has two fat healthy chicks that he is raising with a new mate.''

Department of Conservation ranger Mel Young said at least 11 yellow-eyed penguins rehabilitated in 2013-14 had been sighted this season on nests on the Otago Peninsula and in the Catlins, producing at least 20 viable eggs. ''Without the commitment to rehabilitation ... these penguins would have been lost.''

Predators abounded in both the marine and terrestrial habitats that bisected the penguin's daily life - barracuda, sharks, humans, dogs and other introduced predators - were a never-ending threat to penguins.

Injuries to the feet, the flippers and the eyes are common, and may prevent a bird from keeping weight on, or from being able to complete its annual moult and could prevent it being able to feed itself and chicks. ''Injuries are assessed by a veterinarian, stitched up and cared for in temporary rehabilitation and, without this intervention, many hoiho would die a slow and painful death.''

As a result, rehabilitation involving temporary housing, feeding and care was becoming increasingly important for local populations, she said.

The three rehabilitation centres on the Otago coast were all voluntary and each had a permit from the Department of Conservation to operate.

The New Friends of Bushy Beach in Oamaru, Penguin Rescue Trust in Moeraki and Penguin Place on the Otago Peninsula cared for 329 yellow-eyed penguins last year. ''Success of rehabilitation is measured by the survival of an individual in the wild to breed.''


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