The Tale of The Warrnambool Penguins and Their Very Special Guardians
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
I can hardly think of a cuter story than the one I’m about to tell you. And thats something thats been confirmed by movie executives as this story has it’s very own film- but I’ll come to that later. If you’re easily bowled over by cute stories and if you’re as tough as nails, everyone can agree, this is a true heartwarmer.
On an Island in Australia lives a colony of the tiniest Penguins on Earth, Fairy Penguins. Otherwise known as Little Penguins or Blue Penguins.
Fairy Penguin, on dry land, image from The Projects own website, click the Penguin to head over to their site
Each year, these little Birds, find their way back to where they were laid as eggs and raised by their parents. They spend most of their time fishing in the Ocean but will return around 2-3 years of age, in breeding season, to do the process for themselves. They do mostly stay with the same partner for life, but as we find out there is a small divorce rate amongst the Fairies.
On the Island, there used to be around 900 little Penguins during breeding season. But due to the location of Middle Island- a sandy pathway can form during extreme low tides- making a footpath for predators such as Foxes.
Now, predators are an important part of an ecosystem. However, Foxes are an invasive, introduced predator. Plus anybody that has had chickens, will understand that Foxes appear to kill for fun. They will wipe out far more animals than they consume. And unfortunately this was the case for the Penguins, and when a Fox did a killing spree on Middle Island- the population was decimated.
But a local chicken farmer had an idea. They had a Maremma dog- an italian sheepdog to watch his chickens. Now I can certainly relate to the next part- but Oddball (the original doggy in this story) was also the Farmer’s daughter’s dog and slept in her bed at night. But he thought that Oddball might be a good keeper for the Penguins. So after a long process of permit applications, Oddball went out onto Middle Island to watch over and protect the Penguins.
For the trial period of 4 weeks, Oddball had great success. She wouldn't sleep alone, so someone camped out with her for those 4 weeks. But they were enough to prove that this worked. Fast forward, and two dogs (to keep each other company) would be trained specifically to watch over the Penguins, and would end up on Middle Island as permanent Fairy Penguin keepers.
So, there are two dogs, that protect the fairy Penguins. My heart melts!
This is actually a very unusual and first of it’s kind conservation project. So they are very much making history. It’s actually very brave, doing something in conservation that has never been done before, and ethics is often difficult in these situations. It’s scary sometimes, and can certainly come with hiccups but in this case, the fantastic, dedicated conservationists (and locals!) have made it a roaring success. The Fairy Penguins certainly would no longer populate Middle Island if it wasn't for the Dogs and the dedicated people involved.
So, I was desperate to know more. I adore dogs and conservation is my life. I researched the project more and found it was possible to meet the dogs. I booked up in advance and actually planned a whole road trip around taking my mum to see them... Here is what happened...
Meeting the Maremma
We met with the conservationists that work with the Penguins and The Dogs in Warrnambool. The talk is ram packed with amazing practical information about the work they do. You are shown a little nest box like those the Penguins nest in, and taught how to take important scientific data (all with a Penguin teddy!) I particularly loved this part of the talk and thought it was incredibly important part of the work that they don't skim over. It's a fantastic opportunity to ask questions- something I thoroughly recommend- considering you're talking to such dedicated conservationists!! I won't give too many of the details away as you really should visit this for yourself!
You then go and meet a doggo involved in the project. The working dogs are kept on the Island with holidays and days off when the tide is high enough to keep the foxes away. The working dogs aren’t introduced to the public as a norm. They are taught to imprint on the Penguins and to protect them. From foxes, seals, humans. Middle Island is shut to the public, to protect the delicate Penguin nests and to allow the Dogs to do their job.
We met Amos, an education dog at the project. There are two dogs that are socialised to humans and enjoy a good pat. They’re big dogs, and it’s important to still show these working doggo some respect. As a breed, we learn they like their own space, and don’t enjoy a bear hug. Fair enough, I’m not sure I’d like a stranger giving me a bear hug either.
I couldn't have enjoyed meeting Amos, and his human colleagues more. I have so much respect for working dogs anyway, and these guardians are just even more special to me. Now, you can of course what the movie, Oddball.
This project is supported by donations, sponsors and payment of people going to do exactly what we did. It’s $15, and a $15 very well spent. I thoroughly, thoroughly recommend a visit, meeting the incredible people working to make it happen, learn more and meet a lovely doggo. I’m a HUGE advocate to donating small, in the conservation world. If you have the ability to donate money to this project please do. Every single dollar you can donate will keep these dogs protecting the Island and also keep scientific data coming in.
Donate to this wonderful cause by following this link: