Penguin Place
January 20, 2014

This week we’ve been lucky enough to be situated at Penguin Place, on the Otago Peninsula. Penguin Place is a private conservation reserve dedicated to helping yellow-eyed penguins survive – successfully started up and run by the McGrouther family since its beginning in 1985. Penguin Place is an awesome reserve that has conservation projects that are entirely funded by the guided tours that run around the reserve. We’ve been fortunate enough to go on a few of these and they have been incredible! Having seen penguins in the wild as well as penguins in the monitored reserve – it’s safe to say that the work being done at Penguin Place is crucial to the survival of this species. The funds allow Penguin Place to do ongoing habitat restoration by planting native flora so the penguins have the shade, protection, and privacy that they would usually encounter in the wild. When Penguin Place was founded the reserve was mostly farming paddock, so to see the array of flora that is already present is great. The funds also go towards predator control (trapping, shooting etc.), their own research efforts, and especially their on-site penguin rehabilitation centre. This penguin hospital is one of the most important parts of Penguin Place, as it provides for sick, starving, or wounded penguins from all around the Otago area. All of the birds that we have rescued or performed surgery on have all come to Penguin Place to be rehabilitated and eventually released. We have been able to see our two penguins that we performed surgery on doing well here which is really encouraging. The staff here have all been trained expertly and the penguins are treated with utmost care as to not stress them or damage their feathers when handling.

For us – this week is and has been about using our skills and feeling confident with our chick (and now adult) assessments in the field, but also getting an idea of the business side of conservation work. As the saying goes – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Just like any work, conservation definitely has costs, and these costs are constantly getting monitored and decisions are being made on environmental values compared to economic viability. In my undergraduate degree, I have a particular interest in balancing environmental and intrinsic values with the ever-changing business world. Yellow-eyed penguins’ survival (when quantitatively valued) far outweigh the cost of their monitoring and rehabilitation, which is an interesting statistic. Whilst YEP survival is definitely not about the money generated, we live in a society where if the funding does exist it becomes hard to provide the services that we wish we could, so it is important to consider tourism and conservation as a viable pathway. It goes without saying that there are so many intrinsic values that are kept and grow if we save our endangered species (arguably the most important part!) – healthy and functioning ecosystems and biodiversity for flora and fauna, community and Māori importance, and allowing these for future generations.

So this week we’ve gone round the tours and hand-feeding the penguins at Penguin Place, as well as going out in the field at various beautiful beaches (and on cliffs) to carry out nest assessments across the Otago Peninsula. This week Dannie and I have learnt how to insert microchips into the penguins ourselves so that they can be accurately identified – a task easier said than done! We have all week to gain confidence as that will be one of our main tasks together at Codfish Island. We work really well as a team so I’m confident that we’ll be able to help out Sandy King efficiently on Codfish Island next week.

A few bonuses from the week so far – we’ve ID’d a female sea lion and her pup, had to find a lost Fiordland crested penguin, performed surgery on a penguin with large gruesome shark bites, and had a couple of rest days! Overall we’ve started off another tiring but rewarding week and we’ll update you soon on our newest adventures!

Samantha Collings

Samantha Collings

BLAKE DOC Ambassador 2014