Conservationists have brought in two Maremmas sheepdogs to watch over a small colony of fairy penguins on Australia’s Middle Island. The effort has been so successful that Middle Island is recommending sheepdogs be used to protect other endangered species across the globe.
“We are now starting to see some great results,” said Middle Island Maremma Project manager Ian Fitzgibbons. “We have had our best penguin count since we began in 2006 with over 80 birds counted in one night and I think we have about 26 chicks on the island too.”
Before the dogs arrived to guard them, the penguins suffered frequent casualties from foxes and wild dogs, resulting in a population decrease from 5,000 to just 100.
“We have seen the Maremmas barking when other animals come into the area,” Fitzgibbon said. “And we have seen foxes visiting the area less frequently as a result of the Maremmas being on the island. They can smell them and sense that there’s another dog on the island and they basically stay right away.
“Because no one else in the world has done it, no one has used Maremmas for conservation management, we are the pioneers and learning as we go and I guess it’s a step by step process.”