Thursday, February 24, 2011

Fairy Penguins and Maremma Sheepdogs

Fairy Penguins are the very smallest kind of penguin, and also they are blue, which makes them very cute, like the fairies you read about in fairy tales.  Another name for these birds is Little Penguins.  And you can also call them Little Blue Penguins or just Blue Penguins.

These little birds live on the southern coasts of New Zealand and Australia, and they are the only type of penguin that breeds in Australia.  Fairy Penguins are 12 or 13 inches tall, and they weigh about 2 pounds.  They like to eat fish, squid, krill, and small crustaceans.  During the day, the Little Penguins go out fishing in the ocean, and then after it gets dark, they go up on the shore to their burrows.  The next morning, they go back out to sea before the sun comes up.

The reason the Little Penguins don't spend a lot of time on land in the daytime is because it's safer for them at night, when predators can't see them.  Foxes especially like to eat Fairy Penguins, and so do wild dogs, or even pet dogs who go out roaming around.  In some areas, there aren't many penguins left because a bunch of them got eaten.  But in general, the Little Penguin is not in danger of becoming extinct.






A lot of tourists like to go to Australia to watch the penguins parade down to the sea and back again, and if too many penguins get eaten, it makes the tourists not want to go there anymore.  So in some places where foxes are eating a lot of Blue Penguins, snipers go out with rifles and night-vision glasses to shoot the foxes.  But in a place called Warrnambool, Victoria, people found a different way to solve the fox problem.  And what they did was they brought in Maremma sheepdogs to guard the penguins.




In case you were wondering where Warrnambool is, or even which part of Australia the state of Victoria is in, I found a nice map for you to look at.  When the tide is low on the coast there, foxes can cross over to what is called the Middle Island, and it is kind of like a penguin cafeteria for them there.  But now some Maremma sheepdogs stay on the island and guard the penguins, which means that the foxes can't eat as many penguins, and there are starting to be more of them again.  And that's a good thing.

Maremma sheepdogs have been used for many hundreds of years in central Italy to guard sheep from wolves.  When the puppies are very young, they are put with the lambs so that they learn to bond with them.  That way, when they grow up, they want to protect sheep and not eat them.  Maremmas can also be used to guard goats and even cattle.

The Maremma sheepdog breed dates way back, like to Roman times or even before.  These sheepdogs look kind of like some other breeds such as Great Pyrenees, Kuvasz, or the Akbash Dog of Turkey.  They usually weigh between 65 and 110 pounds.  Most of them are solid white, but colors such as yellow, cream, and lemon/brown spots are getting to be more popular.


In the U.S. and Canada, Maremma sheepdogs are used to guard flocks and herds, just like they are in Italy.  But there is starting to be more interest in using them to protect other kinds of animals, especially since they have been so good at keeping the foxes from eating the Fairy Penguins.  The best thing about using a guard dog, like the Maremma, is that it can scare off the predator animals without hurting them.  And this is good because many predators are protected by law so you are not supposed to shoot them.

Having dogs like Maremmas around makes ranchers happy because their cattle don't get killed by wolves.  And it makes environmentalists happy because the wolves don't get killed by the ranchers.  And making everybody happy is what dogs like to be good at!

8 comments:

  1. Hmmmm....I recently was reading about "Fairy Penguins" but can't remember where? Maybe there was an article in the paper about the KC Zoo? The Maremma sheepdogs must be mighty brave, to scare wolves away!! I'm impressed!! I think it would be neat-o to take a trip to Australia....maybe I could learn to speak like they do! Love, AP

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  2. Australians talk really funny, so maybe you should just keep talking like Americans do. My mom would like to go to Australia, but even more than that, she'd like to go to New Zealand.
    Love, Piper

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  3. Dear Piper,
    The sheep dogs look REALLY CUTE!!! I also really like the penguins too. They aren't that small are they? Are they THE SMALLEST penguin in the world?
    Love,
    Tas

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  4. Yep, the fairy penguins are the smallest penguins in the world. At least that's what I read. They are still about a foot tall, so they are not small like some songbirds are. They are just small as penguins go.
    Love, Piper

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  5. Dear Piper,
    That's what I read too. But I decide to go with what you think because not everything I read is true! Even though I can't change nature, I wish fairy penguins were 6" tall, they'd look REAL CUTE and if you are tempted to eat one well... don't let me stop you but they have natural oils in their feathers to make them swim faster and to keep them from getting too cold in the water so only their feathers get wet! I wouldn't want to eat a penguin if I were you! Anyways you could still catch some birds! I once ate a pigeon and it was delicious! BTW I didn't even know it was a pigeon until my mom told me and then I felt bad for eating it, but it tasted great. I think your mom should let you hunt for some birds so then she won't have to keep buying dog food! I know its weird how I keep on changing subjects...but what the hey! I AM weird! LOL
    Love your number one fan,
    Tas

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  6. I have about 25 goats on a small farm in Iowa, USA. We have many coyote and possibly cougar nearby so we have a maremma dog. Any creature that enters the pasture is quickly driven out and even cars that stop are eyed suspiciously and warned with barks to stay away. He visits each new kid, sniffing and licking it while the mother rests. He does his job well enough that the goats stay outside day and night and only return to the barn when the weather is bad.

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  7. Dear Anonymous,
    Thank you for writing a comment about your maremma dog. I think your dog must be very smart to guard the goats so well, and I'll bet you are very glad you have him.
    Sincerely, Piper

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