The noble Maremma sheepdog breed has recently added a new task to its illustrious resume: protector of endangered penguins.
The governing council of Middle Island, a tiny spot of land off Warrnambool, Victoria in southern Australia decided to try a unique approach to preserving what remained of a colony of endangered Fairy penguins living there. At one time 5,000 of the tiny, defenseless birds lived on Middle Island, but their number was drastically reduced by predators like foxes and wild dogs. In 2006, only 10 penguins remained.
The Warrnambool City Council website explains that they received $15,000 in grants from Powercor Corp. and a local governmental Authority to fund the one-of-a-kind project. Two of the beautiful white Maremma sheepdog pups were brought in and introduced to the island and the penguins. The Maremmas quickly succeeded in keeping foxes and other predators at bay so the bird population could recover.
Today, the penguin population has rebounded to a census of at least 80 adults and 26 chicks, as Ian Fitzgibbons, the manager of the Middle Island Maremma Project disclosed in a report on The Earth Times. The Maremma sheepdogs are allowed to run freely about the island because they are traditionally able to care for their flocks without constant human direction. A project employee goes to the area about every two days to check on them and bring food.
With the success of the Middle Island Maremma Project, sheepdogs could be used to guard other endangered animal populations.
According to the dogbreedinfo.com site, the Maremma sheepdog breed developed over centuries in the mountains of Italy. At one time, another breed, the Abruzzese, was regarded as a close relative, but a few decades ago, the two breeds officially became one. Genes of the Pyrenean Mountain dog are visible in its heritage. They weight from 65 to 100 pounds.
The Maremma sheepdog is typically pure white with a thick, rough coat that allows it to happily enjoy living outdoors in winter climates, and they dislike warm weather. Maremmas are known to bond with their assigned territory or flock of animals to such a strong extent that they will protect sheep, chickens or most recently, penguins from any predator. Historically, they defended their charges against wolves and bears.
Like other herding dogs, Maremmas want to have a job and wouldn’t enjoy an idle life in small quarters. They are intelligent, strong-willed, and need a firm trainer. Although Maremma sheepdogs are lovable and affectionate towards their human families and the family’s children, they remain independent and somewhat aloof. They’re not recommended for the role of family pet because they may assert their protectiveness of the children rather strongly. This no-nonsense breed truly has a purpose in life and wants to work where it’s best suited.
Sources: The Warrnambool City council website,Powercor, Glenelg-Hopkins CMA donate $15,000 toward Council Maremma project
Dog Breed Info Center website, Maremma Sheepdog
The Earth Times, Sheepdogs Shepherd Endangered Penguins in Australia