Penguin postmortems could strain budgets

Sue Murray
Sue Murray
The cost of discovering what killed nearly 60 yellow-eyed penguins on Otago Peninsula could put pressure on tight conservation budgets.

The threat to the colony appears to have eased in the past week. Only one dead penguin was discovered in that time by Department of Conservation, Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, private landowners and volunteers who are regularly monitoring nesting sites.

Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust general manager Sue Murray said as testing so far had failed to pinpoint the cause. More extensive testing would probably be needed.

''To get to the bottom of this, we're going to need technical expertise and we have to buy in these services at huge cost.''

It was vital to find the cause of the deaths so if it happened again the trust understood how to manage or mitigate the problem, to save penguins' lives, she said.

''The financial strain is huge.''

So far the testing had been funded by Doc, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Massey University.

The trust was helping out in other ways, as it did not have the capital reserves to inject into the problem, Ms Murray said.

''We'd be looking for an injection of external funding in a crisis situation.''

Doc biodiversity programme manager Dave Agnew said, as it was an unplanned event, funding for the laboratory testing was coming out of existing budgets.

The costs of testing so far had not been too expensive, as only three penguins had been tested, but further testing would come at a cost, as more toxins or agents would need to investigated. Doc was taking its lead from Massey University staff, who were advising the department on what testing to do.

It was hoped when all the results came in, a paper could be written bringing together all aspects of the ''mass deaths'' so those involved in caring for the penguins could learn from the situation.

Doc had a contract with Massey to undertake postmortems on native species, so those done on the penguins had not resulted in additional costs.

Investigations to determine the cause of deformities in penguin chicks on the peninsula a few years ago cost about $10,000, Mr Agnew said.

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