No penguins for dinner

For the first time in 42 years of monitoring, it’s good news for the Little Penguins on Phillip Island!

During the 2009/2010 financial year, no deaths of Little Penguins were recorded from foxes at Phillip Island’s Nature Park. Since 1980, 3,177 penguins have died on Phillip Island due to foxes, so this achievement is a significant milestone; one which hasn’t occurred since 1968.

‘This is a positive sign that the Nature Park’s fox eradiation strategy is having a significant impact on fox numbers on Phillip Island,’ says Dr Roz Jessop, Environment Manager at Phillip Island Nature Park. The strategy, in its fourth year, aims to eliminate European Red Foxes, one of the greatest land-based threats to the Little Penguins and other wildlife on Phillip Island.

Foxes were introduced to Phillip Island around 1905 and were believed to be one of the main instigators of the destruction of nine of the island’s ten Little Penguin colonies. The Little Penguins on the Summerland Peninsula represent the last colony on Phillip Island and the second largest colony in the world. The Nature Park hopes to eradicate all foxes on Phillip Island during the five year strategy to safeguard native wildlife.

The recorded 3,177 penguin deaths are likely to be an under-estimate of the total killed by foxes each year. This is because not all penguins that are killed are likely to be found as foxes may take some carcasses elsewhere to eat them.  Many of the carcasses that have been found represent surplus kills, which is when an animal kills more than what it immediately requires for food.  An individual fox may kill 20 to 30 penguins a night and accumulate hundreds of kills over several weeks.

Phillip Island Nature Park is a not-for-profit organisation and its commercial operations – ticketing, retail, food and beverage – fund island-wide conservation programs such as the fox eradication strategy.

It’s not just the Park however caring for the penguins; it’s also the surrounding communities, property land managers and private land owners. Their support of baiting campaigns and use of and access to their land allows the fox eradication program to operate. These campaigns include fox baiting, spot-lighting, snaring and tracking.

The eradication program also relies on community fox sightings on the island, and help from Landcare groups who’ve reduced vegetation in the area that harbour foxes, such as gorse and boxthorn.

Phillip Island Nature Park manages 1, 805 hectares of Crown Land on Phillip Island and actively engages in research, education and environment programs designed to enhance the Nature Park environment.

Home to the famed Penguin Parade, the Nature Park also forms part of the UNESCO Mornington Peninsula and Western Port Biosphere Reserve and encompasses wildlife sanctuaries, wetlands, woodlands and breathtaking coastlines.

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