...that were hunted by foxes and almost died out
- The use of territorial dogs to protect penguins has succeeded
- A penguin colony, once decimated by foxes, has regenerated
- At one stage, only four birds were left, now there are more than 100
- It is all thanks to a man nicknamed Swampy and a dog called Oddball
- A movie about the story opens in cinemas later this month
The efforts of a penguin-protecting pooch and her successors have helped save a colony of threatened penguins grow from four to almost 200.
Oddball, a highly territorial Italian sheepdog, helped guard a population of Fairy Penguins on Middle Island, near Warrnambool on Victoria's south-west coast, from foxes that would swim to the island to prey on them.
The dogs - also known as maremmas, who live on the island for weeks on end - have been instrumental in the survival of the species, Sunday Night reported.
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Allan 'Swampy' Marsh and Oddball, the original penguin-protecting pooch
Two Fairy Penguins inside a purpose-built nest. The birds on Middle Island were nearly wiped out by foxes
Before foxes discovered how to prey on the penguins, the birds numbered nearly 1000, but heavy predation severely reduced the population by 2004.
That was when Allan 'Swampy' Marsh and Oddball got involved.
Swampy, a chicken farmer, battled local council bureaucracy years in a bid to have dogs help to protect a threatened colony of Fairy Penguins on Middle Island, off the coast of Warrnambool in south-west Victoria.
His unusual idea - to use the ogs to protect the local penguins from red foxes - has now been acclaimed by conservationists and the 'wildlife worriers' he once fought so hard against.
Since the protection programme began, the population of penguins, which had been reduced to only four by 2005, has flourished.
Swampy and two of his maremmas among chickens on his farm, where the dogs protect the birds from foxes
He realised the protective nature of the white maremma dogs when a university science student working on his farm recommended he get one to protect his chooks from the red foxes.
The idea of using the dogs to protect the penguins came to him after a newspaper article exposed how they were being killed in their hundreds.
In 2004, 234 were killed by red foxes.
After posing the idea to the Warrnambool City Council, a saga of red tape and overcoming obstacles began, which eventually led to Oddball staying on the island to protect the birds.
Although 14-year-old Oddball is now retired, other maremmas have taken up the role as guardians of the penguins.
Workers monitoring the birds on the island now have more work to do, as the population begins to recover. Many purpose-built nests on the island provide the penguins with shelter
The story of Oddball, the penguin-protecting dog from Warrnambool, Victoria, has been told in news items around the world and touched animal lovers everywhere, and now a movie adaption of her tale is about to hit cinemas.
'The weird thing about the movie is that it might inspire someone out there to say "I've got a good idea and I’m not going to back down",' Swampy told Daily Mail Australia in 2014, when news of the film broke.
In the film, which will hit cinemas on September 17, actor Shane Jacobson will play Swampy, and a male dog called Meeeko will play Oddball.
The dog is the real life Oddball’s grandson.
The multi-million dollar movie based on the story opens in movies in September, and stars actor Shane Jacobson
'Oddball' will open in movie theaters on September 17