Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Selfish Pet Owners / Dead Penguins

On Sunday we didn't get off the boat for our family walk until 9:30, so we headed for the Boronia Beach track - an old favourite just down the Derwent Estuary from Hobart, and short enough for a two-year-old to walk before lunchtime.

Boronia Beach is a wildlife reserve - it's fenced off to keep dogs and cats away from the little penguins that nest here.  And there's a big "no dogs allowed" sign on the gate.

But - you can guess where this is going from the title - we found the beach covered in dog tracks, and the carcass of a penguin.

The penguin had been bitten in the neck and body.

This unfortunately, isn't an isolated occurrence - we used to have a housesit near another beach in the area that is supposed to be dog-free to protect nesting penguins, but I would see dogs on that beach more often than not on my daily walk there.

Well, what to say - this isn't a soapbox, but I did used to work as an ornithologist, and I'm acutely aware of how much damage pets do to wildlife - they commonly destroy entire bird populations.  And Australian marsupials also suffer incredibly from pets.

(Cats are really really bad when it comes to bird conservation - you can't get an ornithologist to be polite when it comes to cats.  And I guess that includes me.  Anyone who lets their cat roam outside is failing a moral test.  I just re-read a post by some travelling yachties about the various animals their cat brought back to their docked boat in New Zealand every night.  My blood boiled.  I'm not linking to the post because, in spite of being complete idiots in this instance, they generally seem to be quite nice folks.)

But, back to this instance at Boronia.  Either the gate was left open, and free-range dogs got in, or owners took them in on purpose.  Either way, bad news for the penguins.

OK, off the soap box.

Now - comic relief.

Turns out the Boronia Beach track was a little too long for a particular two-year-old:


  1. Selfish Owner or distraught community member?
    On Saturday my dogs were being "dog-sat" by a well meaning friend with a secure lockup yard in Blackmans Bay. At some time during the evening they found a way of digging under a very well-built fence and escaping, and were not found until Sunday morning. They are suspected to be the culprits of a fairy penguin kill at Boronia Beach.
    Before people jump to conclusions about irresponsible or selfish dog owners, imagine four people walking and driving the streets of Blackmans Bay and Kingston for several hours trying to find these dogs, walking the length of both beaches on several occasions, and being absolutely distraught that (a) the dogs had escaped whilst in their care and (b) finding the dogs before they got up to any trouble was paramount. They called lost dog numbers, dogs home, local restaurants and posted messages on facebook. In my view they did everything to avoid a tragedy for the penguin breeding at Bornia Beach.
    A couple of points for the lovers of this area (which incidentally I have never visited). First, our friends did not even know the beach existed, otherwise they would have checked there knowing it was between B/Bay and Kingston and that our dogs were familiar with that area (especially the dog beach at Kingston),and (b) if the beach is supposed to be fenced and gated and secure from dogs then how did they get in there unless by some careless person who left a gate open?
    Sometimes people should not jump to conclusions that a dog owner is someone who doesn't give a damn - I assure you in this case I am as devastated as the rest of the Boronia Beach community.
    Incidentally I would gladly give my name but the feedback and backlash through community seems to indicate that this would not be a wise move.

    1. Hello - Sorry to hear about your dogs getting away while someone else was watching them, I can imagine how tough that must have been, as we used to have a couple of dogs ourselves.

      The Council tell us they think 11 penguins were killed. That's a big proportion of that little colony. So, I guess the penguins are the losers here, as well as anyone who enjoys seeing penguins in the Derwent. Little penguins aren't a conservation concern at the species level, but populations living in such an urbanised setting are subject to extirpation through events like this...

      I guess that I just think that pet owners should be responsible for their pets. If they're killing introduced animals, that's not such a big deal, ecologically speaking. But if they're killing native animals, it is a big deal - populations of native small animals typically don't coexist well with pets. Like, in this instance, that colony of penguins and your dogs. So, I really wasn't trying to personalise this by criticising you in particular, but the bottom line is that the Derwent now has one less healthy penguin colony. And the magnitude of the problem scales with the number of pet owners. And I'm not trying to impugn your character or make assumptions about your motives - I'm sure that you didn't mean for this to happen. But I still think that as the pet owner, you're responsible for what your pets do. Yes, someone shouldn't have left the gate open, and again, I do understand how accidents can happen. But I think it's a pet owner's responsibility to keep their animal away from native wildlife, and to talk about other factors involved and to try to spread the blame, well, is selfish, and leads to poor conservation outcomes.

      So, anyway, thanks for getting in touch (it's amazing who finds the blog now and then!) but please don't comment again - I think we've both said our piece, and we don't need to do a back and forth.

      Thanks, Mike

  2. I have a question(s) on a different subject: do you only go to places you can walk to from the boat? Don't you ever hanker to get in a car and drive through the country? Do you ever do that for fun? When you had to get to hospital, for example, did you take a cab? Or do you have a car?

    1. GREAT QUESTION! Yes, we do have a car - a white Suzuki Baleno wagon with a bumpersticker that says "Alaska girls kick ass". We call the car the White Rabbit. Bought it last time we were here, left it at a friends' when we were sailing here from California on Galactic, and in a few months it will be for sale as we prepare to sail away to New Zealand.

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