Maremma dogs, used by sheep and other livestock ranchers as flock guardians, protect an Australian fairy penguin colony from fox and stray dog predation.
Since 2006, Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group has employed the services of Maremma guard dogs in their efforts to save a colony of little blue penguins (Eudyptula minor) on Middle Island off the coast of Australia. The penguin colony had declined drastically from 600 birds in 2000 to less than 10 birds in 2005.
The Maremma dogs, brought in at the suggestion of a local chicken farmer, have turned things around. In 2011 the colony is estimated to have increased to about 180 penguins and is expected to continue to grow, given continued protection from predation by their guard dogs.
Little blue penguins, the smallest of all penguin species, are found along the coasts of Australia and New Zealand in large numbers, but coastal development is reducing the available habitat for nesting colonies. And in areas like Middle Island where stray dogs and wild foxes can easily reach the colonies, predation is becoming a serious problem.
This nocturnal species, also variously called fairy penguin, little penguin and blue penguin, is not considered endangered or even vulnerable. Declines in population have not reached 30% in ten years or three generations, which is the IUCN criteria needed for listing. But the situation could change as fish population declines and ocean pollution, including oil spills and chronic oiling, add to the threats many penguin species are facing.