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Wildlife Encounters: Southern Seas & Shores

Wildlife Encounters: Southern Seas & Shores

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Wildlife Encounters: Southern Seas & Shores

Longitud:
439 página
5 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
Mar 30, 2020
ISBN:
9781839520815
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Nicolette Scourse is an entertaining and marvellously perceptive guide to the wild places and creatures of southern seas. Reminiscent of Sir Peter Scott's famous travel diaries for its vivid descriptions, and deft illustrations of life in the wild, Nicolette's colourful story-telling draws you into her world so completely that you soon feel you are with her at the wild edges of the human world. Callum Roberts, Professor of Marine Conservation, Chief Scientific Advisor to Blue Planet ll, WWF UK Ambassador, author, scuba diver. A zoologist's personal encounters with living diversity, journeying into animal lives on beaches, cliffs, desert and forest shores; in cold oceans, warm seas and tropical coral reefs; and in skies above. Connections in life's incredible jigsaw are unravelled - from penguins to parrots, plankton to pelicans, whales to wallabies, whale sharks to wombats, butterflyfish to bioluminescence, dolphin-talk with dogs, and more. In these self-supporting webs of life, the mighty depend on the miniature, ancient meets modern, and mystery detective trails lead to the unexpected. Whilst the animals take the starring roles, human lives, past and present, intertwine with theirs as part of this living jigsaw whilst life affirming volunteers, park wardens and research scientists are now replacing the pieces to make a biodiverse and sustainable future.
Editorial:
Publicado:
Mar 30, 2020
ISBN:
9781839520815
Formato:
Libro

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Wildlife Encounters - Nicolette Scourse

Index

Childhood in a special place shapes your life. A place of unique animals created by geological isolation and aeons of time takes over your dreams.

A small triangle of garden devoted to the ‘wild’ also had a hand in mine: eighteen months sitting in it... paralysed in a wheelchair, infinitely more healing than being in a polio hospital. Painless weightlessness in sea water helped to reconnect, retrain and regain mobility.

The prodigality of life in seas and on shores soon possesses your soul. And so it was... I became transfixed by it all. I had to find out more about animal lives. I became a zoologist.

This is a book of personal encounters with some of this wildlife as it is today, not then. The odyssey took its own shape, dictated by the wild birds and creatures of sea and beaches, random visits from unexpected animal visitors from the land and chatting with exceptional ‘wildlife people’. It led through paths of uncertainty, discovery and wonder. Time spent watching slowly unravelled the beautiful and fragile intricacies of connections between creatures which ultimately sustain life on land and in the oceans. Sharing their worlds and timescales brings perspective and life-affirming calm.

The animal encounters have the joy of exploration and completing the circle... seeing afresh after long, enforced absence. In animal places there are hanging threads of human presence, past and present: committed or commercial, devoted or dilettante, eccentric and extreme, fascinating and fun... for better and worse. A keener, scientific understanding of animals reveals life’s bigger jigsaw: how it fits together amidst the changes that time has delivered.

For me, time delivered mobility boundaries, limiting wild encounters to places of easy access – on shores sitting for long periods with binoculars, pencil and paper in hand, seeing life from boats, swimming underwater and snorkelling. It transpired these are ideal and repeatable wildlife opportunities for anyone watching animals behaving naturally, and for drawing.

For Planet Earth, time delivered cheap travel and easy access into wildlife territories. Human opportunities, expectations and exploitation radically changed, as did attitudes, understanding and science. Rather than recoil in horror at a large animal presence, a casual tourist can now swim with a Whale Shark or a Manta Ray as it feasts in a haze of its favourite prey and can know how far it has come, where from, and how often it has returned.

Time and an expanding human population have transformed zoos and animal sanctuaries into worldwide oases of rescue, nurture and research: breeding threatened species, provision of active conservation in wild habitats around the world and funding research. Contact with the wild has been largely lost: city living and virtual reality have made zoos into places of vital living connection. Here there are real, very close encounters with a wider, more vulnerable world, beyond the successful animal opportunists which have adapted to city life. Children are able to see beyond ‘cute’ images, to wonder at, love and begin to understand this extraordinary natural world on which they ultimately depend. It will ultimately depend on them.

For now, we still have the privilege and joy of living in a unique time of discoveries, unprecedented opportunities and choices. But there is also a new and multiple choice: how to appreciate, but still sustain, the wildlife.

It is a time of animal and habitat vulnerability, a time of great uncertainty, creating the vital need for entering the wild with lighter footprints, and encountering its creatures with caution and sensitivity. Wildlife encounters are now, more than ever before, experiences of utmost value to cherish for the future...

Most of all, they are glimpses of the pattern of life which is maintaining the balance of all our futures.

PENGUIN LANDINGS – BLUE FAIRIES AND YELLOW EYES

Sublime moments are ephemera of the mind, the stuff of gambling. Seeing wild animals being wild in wild places is the ultimate uncertainty.

Slim, crystalline columns rise up like skyscrapers out of a foaming sea – dolerite rock towers reducing us to dwarfs riding a cockleshell. Water rumbles close in deep subterranean caverns seeking blowholes to escape… released, it roars like falling buildings, and fierce spray explodes vertically through shattered fissures. Whirlpools and races accelerate hard towards land cliffs, monumental walls rising sheer. At their bases, rock shelves jut out defying the waves – space for crowds of Australian Fur Seals, confident and oblivious of the confrontation of wind, water and geology going on around them, creatures beautifully adapted. Waves thwack the hull with the resonating vibration of impact as our boat rises up on wave crests to immediately plummet down again into the next deep trough.

We are off the southern shore of an island isolated by wild seas and high swells. South of Australia’s mainland, Tasmania lies in the Roaring Forties – strong westerly winds encircling the globe and unimpeded by any major windbreaks of land. This was the power behind the Age of Sail. Epic voyages passed by here: the Beagle in 1836 bearing Charles Darwin homeward; Captain Cook on his third voyage in 1777; Captain Phillip and the First Fleet which settled Australia in 1788; and the extraordinary ordinary people that followed – resourceful optimists sharing tiny ships with their cows, sheep, pigs and chickens, in search of a new life. It is a passage of gales and violent seas. Those naïve to the sea were confronted with the violence of the biggest environment on the planet.

It is sea on the scale of whales. But out of these tempestuous waters diminutive birds emerge, seemingly too small and vulnerable to be here.

Penguins are part of this place, foraging in deep, cold seas – survivors of the ‘Southern Ocean’. They surface, shake their feathers and stoically tramp out of the sea across sandy beaches and up steep, rocky shores to feed their young…

A rare Yellow-eyed Penguin lands – looking, calling, splashy paddling out of a wave.

BLUE FAIRIES

A ROCK AMPHITHEATRE, Tasmania

The place looks like any coastal suburban street – bitumen, houses, front yards, holiday shacks, but beneath the human veneer this is a wild place. Over the road, rough scrub hides the promising sound of waves and an occasional rumbling boom. The only clue that this is our destination is a made-up path through a gap in the bushes. Between twisted, stunted trees, overhanging twigs transform it into a gloomy tunnel. Confirmation of our goal is the trail of bird droppings… and a vague aroma to match. Beyond, jumbles of heaped boulders create inviting shadowy holes – entrances to a miniature Minotaur maze beneath.

Abruptly the path opens out into dazzling light. We are standing in a wide amphitheatre of rock, sea and sky.

The sea is relatively calm, the horizon empty. It is the enormous rock pavement extending wide and far along the shore which takes centre stage. The great undulating plates of granite are bare, skin-gratingly rough-textured, grey and pink. The forces of geology and sea have forced linear scars, slashed long, straight cracks, and opened up gaping splits into channels. Sky reflections shine in isolated shallow pools filled with stranded sea spray and stones.

The focus of this natural stage set is a large, raised dome – a mezzanine platform – as high as a man and smoothly contoured. On this pedestal of empty space, in the spotlight, one dramatic chunk of stone stands … a giant mockery of a sculptor’s waiting block. Like a great pyramid, sharp-faced with shadow and light, this monolith perches precariously, poised ready to rock in the roughest sea. Its weight is estimated at 80 tonnes.

Beyond this rock presence there are glimpses of a frothy white and brown fringe of bubbles and kelp edging a deceptively billowing blue blanket. The sea’s quiet surface is fake. It belies turbulent eddies and currents below, subterranean caverns and tunnels… and freak waves. There is a steady sotto voce rumble of restless swell and repetitive waves relentlessly slapping solid rock. All around the platform promontory puffs of white spray fan upwards from its rock walls and waves skirt around this solid obstacle, sounding a sequential roar. This is not a place to approach too closely.

At intervals, the sea’s calm mask drops and gives way to the louder cracking roar of that extra-large wave. It was born far away in Antarctica, steadily amplified on its long journey north. A low rumble beneath a blowhole in the rock platform heralds a metamorphosis. There is a long moment of delay. An invisible wave diverts through the rocky maze and shudders… then suddenly escapes, transforming to a shooting jet of water bursting up through the platform. Its plume rises twice as high as the balanced boulder – and more. Small droplets of spray hang and dangle like diamonds in the air high above, whilst the rest rains down. The deluge runs far, bouncing into rills down the granite dome, tumbling into a channel back to the sea. Drop by drop the spouting water falls heavily, smoothing and polishing – billions of drops, millions of years. Slowly, millions of granite grain grits succumb to sloping smoothness.

This blowhole performance was the unexpected climax of natural theatre in this extraordinary auditorium. Or so we thought.

Retracing our steps, we notice the bald grey of rocks is relieved by spattered patches of russet-red lichens. Dry-tipped grasses and bright evergreens are sprawling and poking out of gaps between rock heaps randomly thrown up by the sea. Through the thicket of twisted trunks we duck under hanging ribbons of shredding bark and wind-battered leaves; our presence is monitored. Occasional chirping calls answer each other – the unmistakable sounds of penguins. By the path a movement materialises for a moment in the shadows of a rocky hole – dark, soft fluff, a hard beak, the glint of a small eye. We slow, screwing up our eyes to fully scrutinise while still walking, lest we frighten the lone chick. It is waiting for its parent’s return with food at nightfall. These are the smallest of penguins, lower than knee height – the Fairy, Little or Blue Penguin – but sturdy enough to be able to dive to sea depths of 50m (165ft) and to swim 100km (60 mls) to forage.

Fairy Penguins tentatively climbing a slope at night.

At dusk we return; it is cold. We crouch in a low gully behind a long rock sill amongst shadowy clefts and steps, keeping heads low and trying to merge with the background. Our torches are reassuringly present in our pockets in case of emergency, but turned off to avoid intruding on penguin space. We lie on our sides, motionless for a long time. Suddenly there is a movement close by – a solitary penguin waddles a few steps aimlessly, falters, looking intently across the long, granite slopes, wanders a little, then disappears into a hole between the rocks. We dare to move our heads slowly. Maybe it was a hungry adolescent. In the face of a cold wind we wait for what seems a long time. There are sounds behind. A gaggle of noisy humans appear. They stand on the spraint-marked ‘Penguin Highway’, chatting and blocking access. Meanwhile, one of them scrambles to the better vantage point of a rock summit. Nothing happens; a child starts to grizzle; the adults continue to talk of lifestyle world – here in a fragment of wilderness. The light fades further towards darkness. We will them to get bored and disappear. They don’t.

Their scout peers towards the moonlit water and gesticulates and calls. The figure runs back to ‘Penguin Highway’ and the group chatters their way forward. Flashing torches, they reach the high point, and stand tall – an unmistakably human line of sharp silhouettes. Meanwhile there are intermittent sounds, maybe bird calls, maybe waves, or were they the high calls of frogs in the shore creek or the fantasies of anticipation? The silhouettes turn towards the sea and fall silent. Nothing happens. They resume talking and we can hear snatches of swapping travel tales. My back and limbs ache unbearably, and in my semi-prone stance I start to change position so I can peer round to see the great granite stage – but freeze mid-movement. I am now facing Peter’s ear and have a limited view a little further round the amphitheatre. There seems to be a moving white form at the waterline, or is it wave froth? I screw up my eyes to focus harder on transient silver ripples and shadows heaving in the moonlight.

We hear distant familiar sounds. The penguin calls come closer and in my impractical, contorted pose I can see nothing of the rocks towards the sea. There is a frantic, hissed call among the silhouettes and wild pointing towards the blowhole. The penguin noises immediately stop. Among the dark shadows edging the blowhole there are smaller shadows – a regular line of them, all the same size, with dark lines here and there in between. It is difficult to decipher detail. We scarcely dare breathe as pale shapes materialise and move a little, falter, wait… then scurry a few penguin steps. The line breaks and one group race, skirting wide as they make for big boulder heaps further away down the bluff. The remaining group stands motionless. They seem to be looking across at us and beyond. Behind us two people are walking about, fast and obvious. The silhouette line of six people is starkly etched in bright moonlight; the people pause, children chatter intermittently and there are mumbled replies, lights move about. We cower deeper into our gully, hoping to be invisible. Peter whispers that the penguins have frozen like statues. They stand, beaks pointing towards the silhouettes and do not move. With life always on the line they have patience and practice on their side. We fight our pathetic aches and discomfort, think ‘rock’ and try to stay as motionless as they are – little marvels, considering their guts are full of food for their hungry young and a long, arduous swim just completed. They still stand quiet. Minutes pass in the disparity of human and animal timescales – to us it feels like hours of anticipation and concern. Both worlds stand still.

At last a flipper moves, a head, a nervous reckoning, then freezes motionless again. One looks back towards the sea. Something happens within the group and one movement prompts another. They move – rapidly, but not as we had anticipated. To our horror they come in our direction. Noises of webbed feet splashing through shallow water give way to sounds like old-fashioned galoshes squelching. Their feet splatter through a rock pool near our feet. They stand motionless again, five of them. Two heads crane forward, beaks held horizontal; their oiled breast feathers shine almost iridescent in the moonlight, glinting as they stretch their necks even further. With their heads averted, leaning intently and apparently so transfixed by the silhouetted humans on top of the rock, they appear not to notice that a strangely shaped rock nearby is breathing (barely). At the back of the group one animal breaks away and moves uncertainly back towards the rock pool, another watches it, but does not follow. Suddenly without warning, they are on the move and in unison. Faces in profile pass us without a glance in our direction. One inadvertently scuttles over Peter’s feet but seems unaware of the nature of the obstruction. We resume breathing. They stolidly march to their highway and up the last slope of trees and shore shrubs, towards the safe jumble of rocks and their nest holes. As they disappear from our view more spectators emerge from the scrub with long-lens camera and mobile phones flashing. The line of silhouettes disperse, murmuring. We stiffly roll out of our rock ledge and creep back towards scrub. The newcomers are exploring: they have come for their photographs. We try to convey the shy nature of penguins, but to no avail. We leave and they stay in optimism to seek more penguin photographs.

On successive nights, sea and wind play their ancient fickle game with this place. Nightfall could be of an intense dark blue with a bright moon of silvery cream, a rippling path of glory spanning a quiet sea, shivering spotlights on shallow rock pools, silver gulls dropping down for a last bathe, swirling the light with fluttering, glossy whiteness. A night could also bring wild, windswept seas, less than popular weather for quiet penguin watching.

It is such a night. We arrive later than planned, 9.30 pm – the sun had disappeared below the horizon an hour before. Walking the path into ‘Penguin Highway’ under overhanging trees and shrubs is gloomy, shapes vague. A single high-pitched call from a clutter of rocks and undergrowth announces our presence. We creep through the penguins’ shrubbery but any further calls become drowned by the crescendo of waves as we approach the open rocks. We emerge onto reflective pale expanses of granite in a moonlight diffused through fine shreds of cloud. There are a few bright stars, but it is now the churning sea which is centre stage.

It is a sea the likes of which we have never seen at such close quarters. The water is wild, white and in constant turmoil, wave crests to the horizon. The sound of crashing waves is intense: even the ancient granite beneath our feet seems to shudder under the impact. The waves are so big that the high, dry rocks of our previous visit are swamped under sprawling froth. It retreats fast and powerful down the slopes back to merge with the sea – enough to carry away anything and anybody in its path. The blowhole booms with a power which is threatening. Waterspouts burst out far above the solitary boulder, falling out of the sky like a heavy curtain waterfall, enveloping the platform below with foaming white. There is absolutely no doubt of the ultimate power of this sea. Is it safe to stay? How high would the sporadic giant waves reach? Could we be swept away, like those who had ventured too near the edge of this and other slippery granite domes of these coasts? Would the penguins survive this homecoming... or even try to land? Later we discovered waves can be 3m high (nearly 10ft), and the blowhole could shoot up to 20m (65ft).

We hide on the landward side of a man-sized boulder on the high point of a dry slope, the safety of the ‘Penguin Highway’ and the scrub (presumed potentially snake-ridden) within ‘easy’ running distance behind us. The next sequence of waves is smaller than before. We had obviously entered this natural theatre at a climax of freak surges. We settle to blend in with the rocks and watch… alone. There is no human sound. With constant noise of the sea, air damp with spray hanging in a cold, deepening gloom, and alert to every wave, we feel intensely alive... tiny and insignificant in a wilderness… part of the real universe....

As another big wave rushes in along the edge of the platform there is a resonant, deep boom below the blowhole. It spouts up into the darkness, and an extra wide curtain of white rivulets trickle down the platform, making a glittering white backdrop of lace in the moonlight. For a moment everything seems frozen in time. The boulder looms dark above the watery backdrop whilst on the stage a line of small, black silhouettes move – slowly, stolidly, silently. It is like a rehearsed photograph. The penguins lean forward, beaks horizontal, pressing on and up under the shelter of the rock base. Like well-drilled soldiers, regularly spaced, they march in unison. The foaming sea recedes, the backlit image disappears, and in a moment the penguins merge into the gloom, somewhere out there, lost in the limits of our eyesight.

The furious sea hammers on. We see no more of the line of penguins but that distant view is enough: they are there, following their usual path between rocks where we dared not venture. They are there, surviving… continuing with what had to be done, regardless... as they always have done. We give them plenty of time to pass along ‘Penguin Highway’ and leave in silence.

At the roadside, two penguins are outside the rookery behaving fearfully. They walk backwards and forwards repeatedly; a lurking shadow disappears as we approach. We threaten it – a cat or a dog – some small animal not native to this place and an unfamiliar predator for penguin chicks. It is far more lethal than flashing tourist cameras or a big wave.

A Fairy Penguin chick shelters in a nest hole amongst rocks and branches by the footpath.

INCOMERS V. PENGUINS

This penguin rookery in Bicheno has suffered greatly from some of the foreign land animals brought by European settlement 240 years ago – feral cats and dogs.

The settlers brought many mammals: ferrets and foxes, and ironically, other aliens were introduced later as controllers when introduced animals became invaders, such as stoats against burgeoning populations of rabbits. These imported strategic killers have turned into more invaders. (More recently, the infamous and omnivorous Cane Toads were introduced as biological control against sugarcane beetles and have become a daunting invader.) Many foreign animals remain universal threats to the indigenous animals of Australia and New Zealand on account of a shared, isolated past.

Both had separated from the ancient land mass of Gondwana before the sophisticated mammalian predators had become dominant. Gondwana’s unique ancient plants and animals continued to survive on these detached land masses, drifting off in geological and climatic isolation; slowly changing and evolving to an extraordinary diversity aided by unique geology and climate patterns.

New Zealand was a land of birds, with bird equivalents of mammals from mice to badgers creeping, walking and foraging. With no mammalian predators, walking faster was, for many, an economical alternative to rapid flight. Australian diversity took a different route. Here small, furry creatures nurturing vulnerable embryos in body pouches began to thrive – marsupials. Their jelly bean-sized young, without defined faces and paws, scrabble from the internal warmth of their mother and up through her fur to reach her pouch to develop further. Other furred creatures do not even give birth to live young; they hark further back to reptilian ancestors and lay eggs – the platypus and echidna – the monotremes. Out of sight, by night, quietly… all were ignorant of more recent, efficient mammals and their threat. No lone bears, tigers, leopards, badgers or wolverines, no foxes, no socially organised chimpanzees, wolf packs, lion prides, no African painted wolves/dogs or Asiatic wild dogs/dhole, no stoats and weasels ever roamed these lands.

Threats were different In Australia’s wildlife cul-de-sac, and remain so – pythons swallow wallabies whole without a chase. Ancient predators still flourish – scaly reptiles such as snakes, lizards and Saltwater Crocodiles, and preying birds, large and small. Larger, furred predators were few: the relatively shy Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger/Wolf, rare before the arrival of Europeans, extinct since 1936); the Tasmanian Devil surviving as an endangered species; and in historical time, Australia’s wild dog, the Dingo (now uncommon as a pure breed) was introduced from Asia by seafarers.

Everything changed when European and American whalers, sealers and pirates came ashore with accidental stowaway mice and rats. From 1778 onwards, British settlers arrived with live plant and animal cargo as food, future supplies, company and sport. In 1836, Charles Darwin rode for hours ‘in the raging heat’ in search of kangaroos, and commented how emus had been ‘banished to a long distance’ and kangaroos had become scarce, hunted by the English greyhound. The predatory cats, ferrets, stoats, dogs and foxes had arrived in a paradise where their unwitting prey had no recognition of them, no defence, no flight strategy… And thus it continues, with depletion of native species.

During the short timescale of Australian colonisation about 30 marsupial species have become extinct, the world’s highest extinction rate… and in an island continent where most of the mammals, reptiles and frogs and nearly half of its birds are found nowhere else. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy estimate feral cats currently kill an estimated 75 million native animals (including birds, frogs) every night across the country. In New Zealand the cuddly Australian possum was introduced for fur trade potential, but is now recognised as an alien invader devouring native tree blossoms and young shoots, depriving vulnerable native birds of their food source. For some, it is easy to be seduced by wide, sparkling eyes in a familiar furry face, but an animal in the wrong habitat can bring devastation to other species – on land or at sea.

Worldwide the story is repeated. Recent studies show that more than half of contemporary extinctions are due to feral species. Islands are hotspots for extinctions: historically, passing boats and ships sought shelter, water and supplies, but in exchange left ship’s rats and mice. New opportunities and isolation invite change and a new order. House mice, left on Gough Island in Tristan da Cunha in the nineteenth century, turned to the one prolific food supply – seabird colonies – and thrived in the absence of predators. Their descendants now grow twice as fast and are twice the size of the rest of their kind and they have changed their behaviour, even cracking into eggs. In 2001 their new lifestyle was investigated: live chicks of 24 species of seabirds, attacked by ‘gangs’ of up to nine mice. In 2018 it was estimated that 2 million chicks were being lost annually (some species nearing extinction). Remoteness made this island a World Heritage Site seabird stronghold. It is a story still unfolding as a well-tried and complex rodent eradication operation is organised for winter 2020.

Ship hulls, planes, machinery and cargo still bring secretive stowaways to unexpected places: ants to remote nests of turtles and seabirds in the Seychelles, and seaweeds and mussels invading busy coastal waters and shores globally. And there are the inadvertent mishaps: a hurricane depositing Indian Ocean Lionfish from a Florida aquarium into the Atlantic; disenchanted aquarium enthusiasts dumping live fish; long-term Pacific Oyster escapees from British sea farms multiplying into invader proportions in warming shallows on the south-west coast... Detective trails tracking the aliens are unexpected, tortuous and changing with the rapid changes in global environments.

Fortunately, there are heroes all over the world... and there is teamwork. The Gough Island Restoration Programme is enormous, enabled by a partnership involving non-profit organisations largely supported by the public, such as BirdLife International, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, BirdLife South Africa, Zoological Society of London, World Land Trust, Island Conservation and others, together with academic researchers, Tristan da Cunha, and the UK government. Such powerful cross-connections born of passion and concern bring hope and optimism for a wilder future.

In New Zealand and Australia the teamwork sometimes involves amazing dogs. They and some inspired individuals are seeking to redress the balance of penguins v. invaders.

Penguin view of welcome landings on Australian coasts of Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand South Island.

At the time we watched the Fairy Penguins crossing the rocks we were unaware that relatively close by there is an area of coast where invasive feral species are culled and penguins are not disturbed inadvertently or intentionally by animals or humans. Two surfers, sensitive to Tasmania’s wild coastline and its natural history, created this haven in partnership with the Parks and Wildlife Service. Here penguins can land without interference, walk the rocks and sand to their nests and breed without disturbance and flashing cameras. Meanwhile, Bicheno Penguin Tour visitors can safely see them close-up by day, or by night from boardwalks.

AN UNLIKELY ALLIANCE

Maremmas, traditional Italian guard dogs protecting sheep and goats from wolves, have been introduced to guard Australian free-range ‘chooks’ against foxes

In 2005 an unexpected alliance was spawned at a threatened penguin colony on the mainland. It is a story to delight, concerning a few people and one unlikely animal – quirky in the reality of unexpected events and outcomes. It brings the warm glow of benefits to wildlife, local people and futures of some very vulnerable species.

For millennia penguins and seabirds had come ashore to nest and moult on the south coast of Australia’s mainland and offshore islands. With the arrival of foxes, cats and dogs the mainland colonies mostly disappeared, except for those on a few islands protected by sea moats. One of these was particularly unique – a penguin colony, thousands strong, within walking distance of mainland Victoria at low tide – Middle Island, Warrnambool. Early morning fishermen loading their boats ‘couldn’t hear themselves think’ against the babbling squawks of penguins. Regardless of noise every six months, the penguins and their nesting neighbours, Short-tailed Shearwaters, were treasured by the local community.

Feral species began to flourish on the mainland and in Warrnambool. Foxes were killing free-range chickens such that farmers habitually spent nights waiting with rifles ready. Penguins became an easier meal option.

In 1993 foxes were killing large numbers of island birds. Years of combating fox attacks followed, using careful monitoring, shooting, fumigation and baiting with the poison 1080 (present in some native plants of the Pea family as a natural defence against grazing). Island foxes were eradicated, but they were soon replaced by wily foxes from Warrnambool simply crossing the land bridge at low tide. Their motivation was such that at high tide they were seen swimming the 1km stretch of sea.

In October 2004, the front-page photograph of the local newspaper was a heap of dead birds – 180 Fairy Penguins and 183 muttonbirds (Short-tailed Shearwaters), killed and mauled in a fox attack at Middle Island. A chicken farmer

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