Send in the dogs. That is what one farmer did when he discovered foxes had decimated the population of little penguins on Middle Island, a small island in Australia.
Peter Abbott from the Penguin Preservation Project explains “We went from a point where we had around 800 penguins down to where we could only find four…In our biggest bird kill, we found 360 birds killed over about two nights.” Standing at just 30cm to 40cm tall, the little birds have little chance against the cunning predators who are able to get on to the uninhabited island from the mainland without getting their paws wet when the sand builds up at low tide. With an easy source of food, the foxes flourished at the expense of the little penguins. But the foxes didn’t reckon on the brilliantly named Mr Swampy Marsh, a chicken farmer who sent in one of his Maremma dogs to protect the birds. As Mr Abbott explains “In Australia those dogs are generally used for chicken protection or goats or sheep.”
Oddball, the first dog to be sent over, was an instant hit. “We immediately saw a change in the pattern of the foxes…Leading up to when the dog went on the island, every morning we’d find fox prints on the beach. Putting a dog on the island changed the hierarchy. The foxes can hear the dogs barking, they can smell them so they go somewhere else” added Abbott. Since then, for the last ten years Oddball and his successors have been spending five to six weeks on the island during the penguins’ breeding season and incredibly not one penguin has been killed during that time. What’s more the island’s population of penguins has recovered back to around the 200 mark. Now that’s what you call a result. And if you think the story of dogs saving penguins would make a great movie, you are not alone: a film called Oddball has already taken over £5million at box offices in Australia and could soon be coming to a screen near you.