The Maremma sheepdog is a livestock guardian dog breed from Italy that has protected sheep from wolves for centuries. These dogs are also the devoted guardians of a colony of Little penguins, the smallest penguin species, on a small Australian island called Middle Island. Why do these penguins need guard dogs? Check out this amazing story.
At certain times during low tide, Middle Island becomes accessible to the mainland and a non-native predator, the European red fox, which finds the cute little birds irresistible easy pickings. The situation got so bad that the Little penguin population went from nearly 1,000 to fewer than 10 individuals. The Middle Island colony was on the verge of being wiped out.
An environmental science student working on an egg farm where the chickens were protected by Maremmas thought that the dogs could save the penguins. The local city council agreed to give it a try and in 2005, the first dogs arrived at the island. The first two dogs were adults who decided this new job wasn’t for them and left the island and went home at low tide.
The next dogs were puppies, trained from an early age to bond with chickens…with minimal human contact. These young dogs were released on the island, but apparently they got a little rambunctious with the tiny penguins and killed around 10 of them in rough play.
Back to the drawing board. Two new Maremma pups named Eudy and Tula were the next pair of guard dogs to arrive on Middle Island. The third time’s a charm. Eudy and Tula have been successfully guarding the now-growing penguin population for several years, and now at the age of 8, they’re ready to retire.
You can learn more about the Middle Island Maremma Project and also help fund the next generation of penguin guard dogs too. Can’t get enough of these cute dogs and penguins? Check out the movie Oddball (the name of the first dog) for more animal adorableness.
Your Animal Hearted purchase saves lives! 25% of all proceeds are donated to no kill animal shelters!
- Aaron Seminoff