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article imagePenguins being stolen in Australia

By Lynn Curwin     Mar 20, 2011 in Crime
Thieves are stealing penguins from inside an enclosure, where injured birds are able to recuperate, on an island in South Australia.
Granite Island Penguin Centre co-ordinator Dorothy Longden told the Australian Sunday Mail that six penguins have been stolen.
"People climb over the six-foot high concrete fence and steal the penguins," she said. "Two that were stolen, someone actually destroyed their burrows to find them and then took them.
"We care for them here, these are the sick and injured, they've all got names so we know when we come in in the morning if any have been taken."
She thinks the stolen birds were either set free elsewhere - where they would die - or that someone tried to keep them as pets.
Longden found one penguin dead in the centre's pond, with a rock next to him and thinks someone may have thrown it at him.
Bottles have also been thrown into the enclosure at night. Although there are security cameras at the facility, the culprits wear hoods and have not been identified.
Guided Penguin Tours have been operating on the island since 1991to allow visitors to see the birds without causing too much disturbance, but the numbers have dropped dramatcially. Ten years ago there were more than 1500 of the birds on the island. Last August only 146 birds were found.
Granite Island is connected to the mainland by a causeway which people can walk across, or take a horse-drawn tram across, and Longden said closing that off might give the penguin population a chance of surviving.
Environment Department Kangaroo Island regional manager Bill Haddrill told the Sunday Mail that: "Human disturbances in the form of habitat loss and habitat modification play a significant role in determining sustainability of little penguin colonies, as do human visitation impacts."
He added that dogs, cats, rats and New Zealand fur seals also caused a problem.
The Penguin, Marine and Environmental Centre was built on the northern edge of Granite Island and operates a penguin rescue and release program. Some penguins, such as Pippa, who is older, and Charlie, who came from Adelaide Zoo and helps care for the young birds, are permanent residents of the centre.
Information on each of the birds currently being cared for at the centre can be found online.
The Granite Island penguins are Little Penguins, which are also known as Fairy Penguins, Blue Penguin or Little Blue Penguins. They are found only in Australia and New Zealand.
They are the smallest penguins, being about 35 centimetres tall and weighing about 1.2 kilograms. They eat mainly fish and squid and usually live about seven years, but have been known to reach the age of 21 in captivity.
Males build burrows, with which they try to impress females. Females choose the burrow they like best and the male who built it will be her mate for the year. They only have one mate at any time, but may have different ones in other years.
More information on the Little Penguin can be found in a Department for Environment and Heritage fact sheet.
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