The Department of Conservation is leading an effort to find a
cure for a mystery illness killing large numbers of
yellow-eyed penguin chicks.
The cause of avian diphtheria among yellow-eyed penguin
chicks on Otago Peninsula remains a mystery and in an effort
to find it, staff from Doc and the Ministry of Primary
Industries (MPI) will be out collecting samples from chicks
during the nesting season in spring.
MPI disease investigator Kelly Buckle, who was in Dunedin
recently for the yellow-eyed penguin annual symposium, said
it was possible the work could lead to a vaccine.
The disease - which hit the Otago Peninsula population every
second year and was first described in 1999 - was one of
several factors preventing the yellow-eyed penguin population
from growing, she said.
''In really bad years, it can kill up to almost 70% of
The disease caused ulceration of penguin chicks' mouths,
making it difficult for them to eat and breathe.
Previous research had looked at dead penguins but the disease
was thought to be a ''two-stage'' one and by the time the
chicks died, it was too late to determine the initiating
It was hoped finding the initiating cause could lead to the
discovery of a cure - potentially a vaccine - or better ways
of managing it, Ms Buckle said.