Free the Ocean Blog

How the Maremma dogs of Middle Island saved the Fairy Penguins

There is a tiny gem called Middle Island, tucked away off the coast of Warrnambool city, Australia. It might be small, but it has an epic story to tell! The primary inhabitants here are the world’s smallest penguins, the endearing fairy penguins, just 35 centimeters tall.

Tiny Penguins with Big Problems

Back in 1991, the peace of this little paradise was disturbed. Natural changes in sedimentation and tidal patterns created a temporary causeway to the mainland. This unexpected development provided a path for the mainland foxes to reach Middle Island, and they quickly decimated the vulnerable penguin population.

Enter our unlikely hero, Swampy Marsh, a local chicken farmer. Although not a trained conservationist, his years of protecting his 5,000 free-range chickens from foxes made him an ideal savior for the penguins. His secret weapon? The Maremma dogs, large, white, and incredibly loyal protectors originating from Italy’s coastal region of Maremma.

Unlikely Heroes to the Rescue

Recognizing their potential, Marsh proposed that these dogs could be the solution to Middle Island’s fox problem. Despite the island’s “no dogs allowed” policy, the severity of the situation prompted the Warrnambool city council to make an exception.

The results were astounding! Marsh’s dog, Oddball, deterred the foxes, leading to the establishment of the Middle Island Project. This project aimed to breed more Maremma dogs for island protection.

Between 2006 and 2017, the first trained Maremma dogs, Eudy and Tula, successfully ensured zero fox attacks, and the penguin population rebounded to a healthy 180 birds. The dogs simply patrolled the island, their formidable presence and deep barks enough to deter any foxes. They were well taken care of, with regular breaks, food, water, shade, and companionship.

Thus ends the tale of Middle Island—a compelling narrative of innovative solutions, teamwork, and the fight to preserve the natural world. Stay tuned for more captivating stories of the Earth’s marvels!

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