How New Zealand Cares for its Local Penguins

Two institutions on the South Island are helping the yellow-eyed penguins thrive.

Jul 27, 2021
How New Zealand Cares for its Local Penguins | Two institutions on the South Island are helping the yellow-eyed penguins thrive.

Helping penguins one bird at a time is something a team of veterinarians in New Zealand do well. They have to. They are taking care of one of the most adorable native species.

Founded in 2018, The Wildlife Hospital Dunedin, which is located at Otago Polytechnic, is the only facility of its kind on the South Island of New Zealand. They care for injured yellow eyed penguins – or hoiho which means noise-caller in Maori – one of the rarest penguins in the world according to The Informant.

There are around 4,000 to 5,000  of these birds left and they include only 265 breeding pairs, no wonder that they are on the country’s endangered list. Before the hospital opened, injured and sick birds were sent to the North Island for treatment. Now they can stay close to home.

The hospital takes care of other native wildlife too, and with 80 percent of the species from sea lions to kākāpō bird, every treated and released bird or animal makes a big difference in whether the species thrives or goes extinct according to the BBC.

“When I see the difference we’re making, especially for hoiho, this kind of species excites me, and just being able to work with these birds and bring them back into the wild is actually the best part of my job,” Wildlife Hospital veterinarian Dr. Lisa Argila told BBC.

After the penguins are treated at the hospital, they go to a unique facility, Penguin Place, where they can rehabilitate, put on weight, and continue to mend before being released back into the wild. Penguin Place is a private conservation project that is funded by tourism.  

About 95 percent of the birds that are treated, survive and are released back to the wild. That is an amazing success rate and shows how important these facilities are.

Since the coronavirus pandemic stopped tourism, this facility may be as endangered as the yellow-eyed penguins. “If Penguin Place wasn't here, I could almost guarantee that the population would be functionally extinct,” said Jason van Zanten, conservation manager at Penguin Place.

Hopefully the tourists will return to the Otago Peninsula’s wild coastlines to watch the sea lions, seals, and penguins’ frolic. While they wait, the dedicated staff at these two institutions will continue to care for these endangered species and help them to thrive.

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Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.