Mena, currently the only penguin detection conservation dog in the South Island, and her handler Alastair Judkins from K.O.R.I (Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute), joined the West Coast Penguin Trust once again this September, for two weeks, to survey penguin nesting sites for us. They also took the time to visit some lucky schools with me too. We are sorry we couldn’t make it to all the schools unfortunately, but we hope in the future, we will make it to those who missed out.
Mena and Alistair scoured the coastlines, forests and river mouths all up the West Coast trying to sniff out penguin sites for us. The West Coast Penguin Trust would like to confirm the penguin presence in certain areas and ideally an indication of numbers if possible too. This included Wanganui River area in Hari Hari, north of Hokitika, Barrytown and Punakaiki area and along the penguin protection fence north of Punakaiki, Charleston area, Westport, Carters Beach, Tauranga Bay/Cape Foulwind and Granity.
We carry out the Great Annual Blue Penguin Count each year in October, where any members of the public, schools, local communities can join in counting and noting tracks and observations for us. We also monitor certain sites ourselves with observations and burrow scoping. However, what takes us hours to do, Mena takes minutes often. She knows, when her muzzle is on, that she’s on duty. She’ll seek out a whiff of penguin and then track it down. When she has found the source, she’ll sit down and await further instructions. Alastair will get her to sit and stay on a small blanket while he investigates further and records the finding.
Knowing where penguins are nesting is invaluable when development is planned and we are also keen to have a measure of penguins protected by the penguin fences we currently have in Hokitika and Punakaiki, which we are confident are increasing in number, but doing surveys like this will give us greater certainty.
We are also lucky enough to be able to take Alastair and Mena into some schools we have worked with to show the students what she does and how she is very useful to the Trust. Alastair, Mena and I visited many schools on our way up the Coast, giving presentations and demonstrations for the students and staff of Mena’s amazing skills, detecting penguins and signalling to Alistair. Many of these students have been spending their time learning about penguins and how to help protect them, so this is a wonderful treat for them. For some students, and staff in fact, this was the highlight of their year!
A huge thank you to Mena and Alastair for all their hard work for us and to Jodi Weir-Judkins from K.O.R.I for her support in making this happen. And good luck to Alastair for the training of Kowhai, his next stoat detection dog and his next penguin dog – we look forward to meeting them when they have passed their exams.
Another big thank you to Pub Charity for supporting the education component of this project. Pub Charity have supported other trust education projects including the development and printing of our education resource book, both first and second edition. The schools get such a boost from Mena and Alistair’s visit and so do we in sharing this experience, and we reached around 1200 pupils and 90 staff at 11 schools between Harihari and Granity on this trip – a superb effort.
A personal thank you from me for all Alastair’s hard work and patience! And to Pub Charity for the funding to allow it to happen. It really brings the education programme to life when we get to experience exciting events like this.
Lucy Waller, Education Ranger