By Guest Author 05/02/2019

Spencer McIntyre

Last week, many of us scrolling through newsfeeds or popping on the news were horrified to see that two kororā-little blue penguins were stolen from their nest in Napier and a third killed in the process.

We were right to be horrified; this offence is both highly illegal, punishable by imprisonment up to two years and a fine up to $100,000, and morally reprehensible. However, in the uproar of this story, we are forgetting daily injustice done to these birds.

Just two days following the thefts, a report came out of two more attacked by a dog near Port Taranaki. This is no oddity. This happens all the time, with rescues commonly seeing attacked kororā. While they are the most common victim due to their size and relatively large population, kororā aren’t the only penguins in Aotearoa-New Zealand facing these issues; Snares crested penguins and hoiho-yellow eyed penguins are attacked as well.

The very next day after the theft, four were found dead from a dog attack in Bicheno, Tasmania. This is the same beach that 30 were killed by dogs last November. Before that, 58 in October and 12 in June were killed by dogs across Tasmania. Even more egregious acts weren’t by dogs, but by humans themselves.

It’s easy to forget that there are still kororā alive today that lived through the 2011 oil spill at Astrolabe Reef, and many that did not make it through. This wasn’t the first major oil spill to impact them either.

This doesn’t even begin to touch on the systemic issues brought on by human impact- warming seas, declining prey, introduced predators, and loss of habitat. Kororā have never had an easy relationship with humans. This theft is only the latest injustice brought on them.

But what can we do? We all love penguins. We all want them alive and thriving. Just take a look at the impact that we as humans have on these birds. It is our collective responsibility to stand up for them.

  • It helps to walk your dog on a lead. Dogs chase. A lead can be the difference between a live bird and an attack.
  • Think about which beaches have birds nesting on them and visit others with your dog instead, especially during breeding season (July-January). They do also moult January-March and begin digging nests May-June as well, so there really is a year-round risk.
  • Think about not walking your dog on beaches. Just being near a dog is enough to scare birds and cause them to abandon nests. Councils may need to look at banning dogs on beaches to truly make an impact, and residents need to listen when councils make these decisions.
  • If you see someone walking their dog without a lead, help them to understand the impacts on birds.
  • Think of how you can contribute to kororā conservation- both your time and donations are appreciated. There are great organisations working to conserve kororā, on the West Coast, in Wellington, and the Hauraki Gulf, as well as the numerous bird rescue centres around the country. Even just placing a nest box near your house can help.

With just a little appreciation for these lovely penguins, we all can make a small difference that will turn things around for a struggling species.

Further Notes

While the IUCN does not recognise kororā as endangered, this considers the Australian and Aotearoa-New Zealand populations to be the same species, a point of contention with massive impact to the conservation of kororā. Estimates place the population in Aotearoa-New Zealand much lower than global, at 65,000 mature individuals. Kororā in Otago are further considered to be the Australian species, Eudyptula novaehollandiae. Aotearoa-New Zealand estimates would thus overestimate Eudyptula minor population.

The Department of Conservation recognises them to be At Risk-Declining. They are further protected as a taonga, or treasure, species under the Ngāi Tahu Claims Settlement Act 1998.

Spencer McIntyre is a PhD student at the University of Auckland, studying penguin and petrel health in the Hauraki Gulf – this post was originally published on his blog. Featured image copyright Spencer McIntyre.