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How These Dogs In Australia Have Helped Save An Adorable Penguin Population From Extinction

When foxes nearly wiped out an entire colony of little penguins in Australia, a local farmer decided to take action. Thanks to his innovative solution and diligent work inolving an unlikely group of canine heros, the penguins were soon thriving – and while no one can really say their population is “booming,” they’re definitely making a comeback.

The World’s Smallest Penguins

At only 15 inches tall and weighing just two pounds, the little penguin is the smallest of the penguin species. Despite their small stature, they are powerful swimmers and spend almost all their time in the ocean. Quite impressively, they can swim up to five miles per hour and are capable of diving roughly 165 feet under water.

The only time these little swimmers come ashore is to molt and breed, and from August to February of each year they dig burrows and use artifical nesting boxes to raise their young. Although they live all along the coast in Australia and New Zealand, the population on Middle Island has received the most attention due in large part to the movie “Oddball.”

Problems With Predators

The little penguin was once a thriving species and an important food source for the indigenous populations of Australia. But when European settlers arrived int he early 1800s, they introduced a large number of predators including dogs, cats, and foxes which preyed on the little penguins.

Peter Abbott from the Penguin Preservation Project says, “We went from a point where we had around 800 penguins down to where we could only find four.”

Maremma Guardian Dogs

In 2005, local farmer Swampy Marsh suggested that Maremma guardian dogs could be used to protect the penguins. Maremmas have a long history of protecting livestock and other animals, and Swampy himself had used them to guard his chickens.

For the first time ever, Maremma dogs were trained to guard penguins from foxes and place on Middle Island during breeding season. The project has been a huge success, and today the dogs work five days a week and spend the rest of their time in a tourist village, interacting with visitors. As of 2015, the penguin population was estimated to be up to 130.

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