Doc worried by death of yellow-eyed penguins

Four yellow-eyed penguins have died following dog attacks along Otago's coast in the past six months, prompting the Department of Conservation to issue a warning to dog owners to keep their pets under control on beaches.

Dog attacks are also thought to be the cause of two more penguin deaths though those were yet to be confirmed.

Dogs are prohibited from about eight beaches and reserves across Otago.

The dead penguins have been found on beaches around the city including Allans, Warrington and Victory beaches.

It is the second blow to the endangered penguins after up to 50% of chicks at some breeding sites died during the summer.

Doc biodiversity assets programme manager David Agnew said staff were "disappointed and frustrated" by the increase in preventable fatalities, and the continuing disturbance caused to wildlife on beaches by dogs that were not under control.

"Yellow-eyed penguins are particularly vulnerable right now. Many are finishing their moult and are highly susceptible to disturbance by people and dogs, or attack by dogs."

Moulting or sick penguins could show up on any beach in Otago so it was crucial for dog owners to control their dogs at all times, and to keep well back from penguins and other wildlife, he said.

Those breaching the Dunedin City Council bylaws attract a $300 fine and owners of dogs that kill protected wildlife face criminal charges, fines of up to $20,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said there had been reports of an increase in dog incidents on local beaches.

Trust field workers and the public had observed dogs being exercised in Okia reserve, despite signage making clear they should not.

"It is disappointing that people are continuing to walk dogs into the middle of known penguin breeding areas."

The trust was setting traps to protect penguins from mustelids and cats, but the largest land predator of all was the domestic dog which was capable of killing adult penguins in seconds, she said.

Dunedin City Council senior animal control officer Jim Pryde said even the most well-trained dog, if uncontrolled, could attack another animal.

"That's why people must ensure their dog is under control at all times."

If a sick or injured penguin is found, people are asked to contact Doc on 0800 362-468 or office 477-0677 immediately. If a dog is worrying wildlife, call animal control, ph 477-4000, and Doc.


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