Update on KI's little penguins
18 May 2015
The Kangaroo Island community takes considerable interest in its little penguin population.
Since 2006, volunteers have assisted with the annual penguin census conducted by Natural Resources Kangaroo Island. They scramble over rocks, push through vegetation and peer into almost inaccessible burrows to ensure the accuracy of the count. In late 2014 the community helped conduct the ninth census of Kingscote’s penguin colony, the largest on the island.
The census estimated the population at 128 breeding adult penguins. This represents a decline of 17% from the 2013 results where the population was estimated at 154 penguins and an 85% decline since the population peaked at 868 birds in 2007.
Natural Resources Adelaide Mount Lofty Ranges has been funding Flinders University to undertake research into little penguins in Gulf St Vincent for the last few years. The work has included population monitoring (including the KI census), assessing breeding success, investigations into land-based predators including goannas and rats, and the effect of blood parasites on fitness and mortality. The SA museum is carrying out autopsies on dead penguins to determine their cause of death and Natural Resources Kangaroo Island is a collection point for dead penguins brought in by the public.
The reasons for the decline in little penguin numbers are unclear, although there are several possible causes. These include habitat destruction, reduced food availability, changing maritime conditions and increased predation from seals.
Attacks by domestic and feral animals continue to be a threat to the penguin population. A member of the community recently witnessed a domestic dog killing a penguin near Brownlow. The dog was unattended and ran off after the incident.
Dog owners are reminded that they have obligations under the Kangaroo Island Council by-laws. It is an offence under the Dog and Cat Management Act and Council By-Laws for an animal to be wandering at large. When the dog is caught the owner will be expiated. Cat traps are available for loan from both the natural resources centre and the Kangaroo Island Council.