Dogs maul penguins despite prohibitions

A dog owner is being investigated after an attack on a penguin and others are facing $300 fines for having their dogs on Otago coastal beaches where they are prohibited.

There have been three reported dog attacks, two fatal, on yellow-eyed penguins since September, the Department of Conservation says. The third injured bird was taken to Penguin Place.

Blue penguins have also been killed at Brighton.

A minority of dog owners were ignoring the Dunedin City Council dog control bylaw prohibiting having dogs on the main Brighton Beach.

Brighton resident Jeff Munro said penguins were defenceless against dogs, and, if they encountered each other, it meant ''the penguin's dead''.

Several Brighton residents were concerned about dog owners ignoring warning signs, with fatal consequences for penguins.

He approached people walking dogs along the beach ''daily''.

Some were unaware they had strayed on to a dog-free beach, but it appeared other dog owners simply ''couldn't give a damn'' about the beach's birdlife.

''There are some people who will take notice of signs, and then there are some people that never will.

''There's an incredibly arrogant sense of entitlement, it seems, with a lot of people with dogs. And yet others, of course, are responsible and sensible and fine.''

Doc had been working closely with city council senior animal control officer Jim Pryde to catch offending dog owners and to follow up on infringements when dog walkers were caught in prohibited areas. In the past two months, two $300 fines had been imposed on offending dog walkers, and Doc was investigating another attack, which could lead to a prosecution.

Doc was urging dog owners to be ''extremely vigilant'' over thesummer to prevent further dog attacks and penguin deaths. It was mandatory for dog owners to carry a lead when taking a dog on the beach, in case wildlife was present.

''Doc and Dunedin City Council dog control can't be everywhere at once, and we rely on the public to help. If wildlife are at risk from dogs, be sure to call both. Jotting down a few details can make all the difference if you witness a dog in a prohibited area or if you see a dog attacking wildlife,'' coastal Otago biodiversity assets ranger and yellow-eyed penguin monitoring co-ordinator Mel Young said.

Although the main penguin breeding areas had restrictions on dogs, penguins could be found anywhere along the Otago coastline.

The penguins' breeding season appeared to have benefited from cooler weather this spring, she said.

The number of yellow-eyed penguins breeding on the Otago coast was similar to last year. About 450 breeding pairs had been counted. Doc was pleased that many young birds from previous seasons survived to become breeding adults. Many older birds (ranging from 18 to 24 years old) were back. This year at Sandfly Bay there had been eight yellow-eyed penguin nests, but losses reduced the number to six.

Penguins from further afield, including erect-crested penguins from the Bounty and Antipodes Islands, Fiordland crested penguins from Fiordland and Stewart Island, and Snares crested, rockhopper and royal penguins from the sub-Antarctic Islands had also been seen using Otago beaches to rest. The Boulder Beach Conservation Area was closed to the public until February 28 2013 to prevent disturbance to penguins and other wildlife over the breeding season.

The public could report injured wildlife by calling Doc hotline 0800 DOC HOT, or report dogs to animal control on (03) 477 4000.

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