A year after the closure of its kiosk facilities, Granite Island has received another kick in the guts with its penguin centre shutting up shop. The announcement was made on the ‘Granite Island Penguin Centre’ Facebook page on Thursday evening, January 14.
Dorothy and Keith Longden, who have managed the centre for 16 years, said they had to retire for health reasons. “It is with great sadness that I inform you all that the Penguin Centre will cease operation from tomorrow,” the Facebook post read. “Dorothy and Keith who have dedicated the past 16 years of their lives to operating the penguin centre, have made the difficult decision to retire due to health issues. “We'd like to thank everyone who visited us and supported us over the past 16 years. During this time many little penguins were rescued, rehabilitated and released, and thousands of visitors each year were charmed by our little penguins and learnt about the importance of their conservation.”
In 2015, The Times reported that the centre was facing an abject lack of support from the state government department which owns it, the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR).
City of Victor Harbor councillor Moira Jenkins is disappointed at the closure. “It is tragic and very sad,” Cr Jenkins said. “We need someone to take on a penguin breeding lease on the island. I believe Granite Island should be a marine educational tourist centre.”
Dorothy and Keith have been actively involved in rescuing injured penguins from the ailing Granite Island little penguin colony, which has been in severe decline for a decade.
Controversy flared in 2013, when Dorothy confirmed the centre had been forced to crush penguin eggs, because it could not obtain relevant permits from the state government to breed birds. In 2014, the centre bred two little penguins which were released to Flinders University so scientists could study the birds. In 2015, it was announced the pair had died.
At the time, DEWNR said the penguin centre was only suitable to hold and display up to 10 little penguins, so could not be granted a permit to breed the species. "The penguin centre facilities on Granite Island are not suitable for a captive breeding program," the spokesperson said at the time.
"In addition there are animal welfare and biosecurity risks associated with breeding and releasing captive-bred penguins. The penguin centre has an important role to play in educating the community about little penguins and in acting as an intermediary in local penguin rescue, ensuring any little penguins rescued in the area are transferred to appropriate facilities."
The three little penguins currently in the centre’s care, Billy, Sophie and Austina, will be relocated to Adelaide Zoo now that the centre has closed. Granite Island’s only remaining tourism opportunity, the evening penguin tours, will still be in operation and can be booked through Victor Harbor Information Centre.