Sand bridge puts Middle Island penguins penguins at risk

MAREMMA dogs guarding Warrnambool’s endangered penguin population are working overtime day and night keeping foxes away from the Middle Island rookery.

Warrnambool City Council dog handler Phil Root gets the message across at Stingray Bay, where a build-up of sand has left the Middle Island penguin population vulnerable to foxes and other intruders.

Their task has been made more challenging by recent silting over of a channel between the mainland and island, allowing predators and spectators to easily cross over.

“There has been more fox activity in the area so we need to leave the dogs, Eudy and Tula, on Middle Island for longer periods especially while the penguins are moulting,” Warrnambool’s tourism services manager Peter Abbott said yesterday.

“People in the area need to be cautious and let the dogs do their job without being teased or disturbed.

“Until the penguins finish moulting and return to sea the dogs will stay on the island and continue to do their job in protection.

“Usually we rest them for a couple of days, but this week we are getting them to do double shifts.

“The channel is now full of sand so people and foxes can walk straight on to the island without any water for much of the time.

“Only the highest part of the tide is providing any protection to restrict access.”

The Maremma protection program started in 2006 after foxes and stray dogs slaughtered penguins and reduced the colony to four adults.

It has since built up to more than 120.

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