Maremma sheepdogs protect penguins in Australia

The Middle Island Maremma Project is a flagship project by the Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group.

Middle Island in Victoria is home to a Little Blue Penguin colony.  The penguins were suffering dearly because of predation by foxes and wild dogs.  Between 2000 and 2005, the population of penguins went from more than 600 to only 10.

In 2006, after a suggestion from a student who was familiar with the work of the dogs on a chicken farm, trained Maremma sheepdogs were introduced to guard the penguins.    In 2010, the project won the National Landcare Award sponsored by the Australian Government.  87 other competitors were vying for the award.

Maremmas on Middle Island, photo courtesy of Middle Island Maremma Project website

According to The Blue Penguin Trust, blue penguins are the smallest breed of penguin, reaching only 35-43 cm in height and weighing up to a maximum of 1.5 kg.  They are found throughout locations in Australia and New Zealand, but are vulnerable to development (often getting run over by cars)  as well as predators.

As for the Maremma Sheepdog, they were originally bred in Italy to guard flocks of livestock from the threats of attack by bears or wolves and have strong protective instincts.  The dogs have a double coat that is water repellant, so they are able to work outdoors for long periods of time.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

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