Oddball Loves Penguins

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By Prakash Verapin

St Kilda’s Little Penguin colony will rejoice in the eagerly awaited Australian movie Oddball, a film by Shane Jacobson of “Red Dog” fame.

Dogs can sniff out drugs, foods or animals in airports. They can track criminals or rescue people from crumbled buildings or avalanches. In fact there seems to be no end to what Man’s Best Friend can do.

Thanks to a Warnambool chook farmer and his Maremma sheepdog named Oddball, we can now add penguin protector to this long list of accomplishments.

Allan ‘Swampy’ Marsh originally bought his four legged friend to guard his own chickens from wild foxes, then initiated the bold idea of using Oddball to protect the dwindling Penguin population in nearby Middle Island after hearing of the bird’s plight.

The penguins whose numbers were around 200 at one stage, were subjected to fox attacks because of the ease of access to the island during low tide. These numbers dropped to less than 10, until Swampy approached the local wildlife authorities with his idea of deploying Oddball on the island to safeguard the remaining feathered fledglings.

The litmus test went smoothly as the dog and penguins connected, and the foxes retreated their attacks. This paved the way for Oddball becoming a local hero and two Maremmas being trained to take on a full-time role on the island as the penguin’s minders, protecting them for 6 months of the year.

Swampy and Oddball’s story has now been made into a feature film by Shane Jacobson of “Red Dog” fame, with the movie being set for release in 2015.

This may seem like an unusual role for our trusty canines to take on but it’s actually not the first time that dogs have been used for conservation efforts. There is even a non-profit organisation in the USA called Working Dogs for Conservation, which takes rescue dogs and puts them to use by helping scientists to study and save endangered species, and in some cases they even eradicate invasive species.

Although our own happy feet community in St Kilda remains relatively unharmed from vicious predators such as foxes, sharks and feral cats, they do have a whole range of man made hazards that threaten their survival. These include plastic debris, fishing lines and pollution. Unfortunately in this situation, man and his best friend aren’t able to collaborate their efforts to protect the local avifauna. That responsibility rests solely with us.

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