Penguin-minders to educate visitors

An initiative to keep both people and penguins happy around Oamaru Harbour is being set up by the Waitaki Tourism Association.

The association is calling for volunteers to help educate visitors about how to treat penguins and other wildlife in the area.

That follows increasing feedback from visitors to the Oamaru Penguin Colony, where viewing is controlled and visitors are educated about the welfare of penguins.

When the visitors leave, they see other people outside who are chasing or blocking birds trying to reach their nests.

It is a problem that has increased in recent years, along with calls for something to be done to control people who do not go to the colony.

The aim is to have volunteers - at least two a night during the peak viewing season from this month to the end of March - educated by the Department of Conservation then taking up duties between the colony and Holmes Wharf, to help people understand the penguins and what they need to do to preserve their welfare.

The association also plans to produce a "code of conduct", which will be distributed to tourism operators and accommodation providers, to inform visitors how to take care of the area's wildlife.

Yesterday, the Department of Conservation and the Waitaki Tourism Association met to launch the initiative.

Association representatives said they were worried about the increasing number of comments from visitors who were disturbed about the way others were acting towards penguins outside the Blue Penguin Colony.

Those actions could have an impact on Oamaru's reputation.

Tour bus operator Ralph Davies said Oamaru was blessed with a lot of wildlife, including the blue and yellow-eyed penguins. That generated thousands of visitors and contributed to its economy.

He took tourists on a night tour of Oamaru, which concluded with viewing at the Blue Penguin Colony.

However, when leaving the colony, it was not unusual to see other visitors around the harbour, blocking penguins' paths to their nests or taking flash photographs, which disoriented the birds, he said.

Department of Conservation ranger Helen Jones said that could cause the penguins to return to the sea, or regurgitate food they had gathered for their chicks, affecting the chicks' fledgling weights.

Volunteers would be educated by the department, issued with vests and encouraged to educate and help visitors at the harbour to protect the penguins.

"It's a way of keeping everyone happy - people and the penguins," she said.

People interested in becoming volunteers can email or phone 437-2146.



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