The adorable way Australia is protecting its penguins

Australia has a long history of invasive species — and according to a recent article in The New York Times, the country is still dealing with the consequences to this day.

In the 19th Century, European settlers introduced red foxes to Australia for sport hunting; but the furry creatures were quick to prey on the country’s little penguins. (FYI, this is the actual name for the smallest breed of penguins in the world, a fact that warms my heart.) The penguins were an easy target for the foxes, and eventually, most of the country’s flightless flock could only be found on nearby islands.

As the NYT article explains, all was well and good for a while, until “tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation began to make the small, uninhabited island accessible from the shore.” By 2005, the penguin population of Australia’s Middle Island had dropped from hundreds of birds to fewer than ten. Australia didn’t seem to be doing much of anything about it, so one chicken farmer decided to take charge — and came up with the best solution ever.

Swampy Marsh was no stranger to pesky foxes trying to eat his chickens; but it took him a while to realize that there was a better way to fight them off than patrolling his farm with a gun. One night, when his neighbor’s dog was being particularly loud, it occurred to him that the pup was actually trying to scare away the very predators that were bringing him so much trouble. So he got himself a Maremma sheepdog.

According to the New York Times, Maremma sheepdogs “develop a keen sense of territory and are vigilant against intruders, though amiable toward familiar people and animals.” As a bonus, the article goes on to explain that they’re incredibly self-reliant, and “can be left to defend a patch of land for long periods of time with a supply of food and water that they know not to wolf down right away.” Realizing the pup’s potential, Marsh knew they’d be a perfect fit for helping the little penguins — and one of the people who worked on his farm, David Williams, wrote a formal proposal suggesting the state environmental agency deploy the dogs.

“Finally, in 2006, the first Maremma was put to work: Oddball, a daughter of [Marsh’s dog],” the article reads. “Since then, Middle Island’s penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a [fox.]”

It’s a pretty incredible (and adorable) solution to a country-wide problem, and after the success at Middle Island, Maremma sheepdogs are currently being tested in other areas, as well. For more information on the program, check out the full article over at The New York Times.

(Images via Shutterstock.)

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