Photo: A nine-month-old Maremma puppy recruit will protect penguins in Victoria's south-west. (ABC News: Bridget Judd)
After almost a decade of guarding a little penguin colony in Victoria's south-west, Maremmas Eudy and Tula are being retired to make way for a new pair of puppy protectors.Warrnambool had seen a sharp decline in its little penguin colony due to fox predation when the Middle Island Maremma Project began in 2006.
Maremmas were trained and placed on the island off the town's coast to protect the birds from predators during breeding seasons.
The idea started on a rural chicken farm and has since sparked a multi-million-dollar film adaptation, Oddball, and a regional tourism empire.
Eudy and Tula are now celebrities in their own right.
The project's coordinator, Peter Abbott, said its new arrival — a nine-week-old Maremma puppy — had proven to be "a bit of a handful".
"We picked him up about a week ago, so he's growing at about a kilo a week and he's just a bundle of joy," he said.
"Over a bit of time we've learned we need to get the dogs on the island as young as possible, and getting them to see and smell the penguins as soon as possible."
Training the island's canine custodians is no easy feat.
Phil Root has been handling the iconic Maremmas for the past four years.
"I thought, 'A can of dog food once a day, how hard can that be?'"
It was harder than expected, he conceded.