The Little Penguins of Australia have a new guarding angel – An English Springer Spaniel named Eco which has been given the important task of looking after the penguins and also protecting them from predators like fox at the last remaining little penguin colony in NSW.
The little penguins are known because of their visibly shorter height compared to other penguins. An adult on an average weighs just 1 kg and may grow up to a height of 30 cm. The species is endangered with only 60 pair of birds believed to be left in the only little penguin colony in mainland NSW.
Eco, has therefore been trained to sniff out as well as protect the penguins from big threats such as fox, dogs and cats.
“I’ve trained her to passively respond when she detects a penguin burrow,” her trainer Steve Austin said. “She first stops and stares at the area where the penguin has been detected and then she paws that area when asked show me. In contrast, when detecting foxes, Eco’s response is very active whereby she vigorously digs the area when she detects a fox den.”
Monday was Eco’s first official day at work at Manly, in Sydney’s north. The advantage of having her according to Austin is that Eco covers an area is one hour that people usually take four hours to monitor.
National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS) hopes that Eco’s presence will help them better understand the penguin population of the area and plan protective measures.
‘One of the challenging things about monitoring the Little Penguin population is determining the exact size of the colony and most importantly the breeding pairs,’ NPWS regional manager, Gary Dunnett said.
He added that as little penguins were secretive creatures, Eco will help immensely in finding nests that were not previously known.
‘Little Penguins are notoriously secretive, leaving for their fishing expeditions on night fall and returning in the pre-dawn light.Eco will be used today to try and find nests we previously haven’t known about which will allow us to monitor any adults and chicks nad also to map where they are nesting against where the currently protected areas are.’
Currently, the only known mainland breeding colony in the state is in a secluded cove in the Manly area of Sydney Harbour, the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage says. As the population of the penguins has decreased visibly from hundreds to just about 60 pairs, the colony has been marked as endangered.
Hopefully, the penguins’ new friend with paws will help them feel safe and secure in their homes.