On Warrnambool’s middle island in Australia, a pack of Maremma dogs protect penguin residents from fox attacks. Even though they don’t have wool, the penguins can rest easy knowing that the sheepdogs do an amazing job patrolling the area for sly foxes. With their help, the little penguin population has rapidly increased.
The idea to use sheepdogs to protect wild penguins was a brilliant and unique idea. While it would take some training, the dogs are already bred to herd and ward off predators, so it was just a matter of training them for a different terrain and a different animal to protect.
About a decade ago, the island was full of little penguins; a population of about 500. These penguins come onto the island to breed because there are lots of little burrows for them to raise their young. However, due to destructive tourists and a colony of foxes, the penguin population that came to the island dropped to 10 birds. Since then, the project to protect the penguins with patrol dogs started, and the penguin count started to get to the hundreds. The idea to protect the penguins from foxes came from a local chicken farmer, Swampy Marsh, because his dogs guarded his chickens against the foxes. He knew that with proper training and care, the Maremma dogs could be trained to help the little birds breed safely.
The dogs work five days a week on the island guarding the penguins during breeding season. While the project has definitely helped ensure the safety of the burrows the birds, there’s still a long way to go in terms of stabilizing the population. Last year, about 140 penguins died due to fox attacks during breeding season.
The good news is the project’s popularity has allowed it to gain more resources to protect the penguins. Over 6000 volunteer hours were logged for the project, and this included penguin monitoring, training and care for the Maremma dogs, and building infrastructure to aid in fox control. With the help of volunteers and the city council, the penguins can rest easy knowing they have guardians looking out for them.