Friends of the Low Head Penguin Colony, 12 months on.

A talk presented to the George Town Coastal Communities Management Group by Bruce George Convener of the Low Head Penguin Colony, March 2020.

Following a spate of dog attacks on the Low Head penguin colony, 58 penguins were killed in October 2018 and 12 in March 2019 Senator Peter Whish-Wilson and the Low Head Heritage and Progress Association convened a forum in George Town assisted by Dr Eric Woehler and Assoc. Prof Mary – Anne Lea.  Dr. Woehler expressed his concern that the penguin population in the area would take a long time to recover from these losses – a penguin can live for up to 20 years and the loss of breeding adults is quite significant.  Several suggestions from the gathering were taken on board such as increased fencing around the nesting areas, trialling Maremma dogs, setting up cameras to identify predators, and increased penalties for off leash dogs.

Dr Woehler said the likely increase in dog attacks would be the result of a change in the penguins behaviour as they were coming ashore to breed year-round rather than just summer which meant they were exposed to on-land predators like dogs more often.

Following this meeting a grass roots Friends of Penguins was formed comprising a group of 4 persons.  During our early days we had enormous support and valuable advice from Stan Matuszek, Manager Regional Operations North, Parks and Wildlife, and have been fortunate to have mentoring from our scientific advisor,  Dr.Eric Woehler.

We drew up a mission statement which embraced : –

  • Protection of the Little Penguins and conservation of the species,
  • Establishment of long term population monitoring and adaptive management procedures for the Low Head Little Penguin Colony,
  • Education of the community, and
  • Awareness of environmental issues.

We now have an executive committee of 12. There are 73 people on our mailing list, and 24 volunteers who are part of our Friends Wildcare group.

On Mr.Matuszek’s recommendation we decided to join Wildcare. The benefits were obvious, chiefly insurance cover, use of the Wildcare web site, the ability to call on volunteers, and the ability to apply for grant funding especially government grants. We become a branch of Wildcare on 6th July 2019.

Our first activity was mapping the low head penguin habitat.  This was done by Eric and his student Jacqui.  Friends of the Low Head Penguin Colony arranged the land holders’ permissions so this proceeded and the mapping is all but complete.

Other activities have been a Cat Management Day and a family fun day ‘Dogz Day Out’ done jointly with the George Town Council, a public education event. Our focus was on making the public aware of the need for dog management in penguin colonies.

We successfully applied for a Federal Government grant from the Communities Environment Program that has enabled us to fund our part of the Dogz Day Out program, 3 after dark surveillance cameras which we will place on the headland, and two training and information workshops for volunteers this year.

We have acquired an amount of historical information including articles and photos of the Iron Baron disaster as well as records created by a previous penguin group. One of our members, Tim Smith, has documented a wealth of photographic material tracking the start and spread of boxthorn on the peninsula.  It is interesting to note that boxthorn did not appear on the peninsula until around 1945. This material we are cataloguing and preparing to lodge it with the Tasmanian State Archive.  We may well archive some of this material in the George Town Library collection.

What’s ahead ?

Our immediate goal is to bring the people of George Town into our team.  Monitoring predators in the habitat, and a bird count which hasn’t been done for some time. We also have plans to establish a public education hub as well as other ambitious plans such as a rescue and release program which  is still subject to further investigation and feasibility studies.