8 Mar 2017

Funding a future for Dunedin's penguin hospital

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:30 pm on 8 March 2017

Funding for Dunedin’s penguin hospital is about to run out, but one of its coordinators wants a permanent wildlife rescue centre set-up in the city.

Lisa Argilla has been treating yellow eyed penguins at a temporary hospital for the past eight years, when they are vulnerable during their molting season.

She says it’s been a busy year for the clinic, with 37 Yellow Penguins admitted, as well as eight Crested Penguins and various other species.

“It’s been pretty intense.”

Dr Argilla says things are going on out at sea which are harming the penguins, including a huge increase in predatory injuries.

“They’re natural predation injuries, so they are being attacked by their natural predators such as sharks, but we’re also seeing what we think are an increase in barracuda bites.”

She says those are injuries that have increased dramatically in the past four or five years.

“It’s probably got a lot to do with climate change and something’s happening out at sea, the ocean’s warming and the different fish species, some are moving off because it’s too warm and barracuda and penguins are probably competing for the same food source.”

Barracuda are intolerant of anything being in their space and Dr Argilla says they are likely biting the penguins when they come near – leaving nasty injuries.

“A lot of these birds are sustaining very severe injuries, tendon lacerations or bite wounds that result in horrible infections… that’s what we’re seeing mostly.”

The current hospital is a temporary initiative, which the Yellow Eye Penguin Trust supports.

The hospital is due to wrap up next week, but Dr Argilla says there needs to be a permanent wildlife clinic based in the city.

“So that we can help not just penguins [but] any native animal that needs veterinary intervention.”

She says progress towards establishing such a hospital is going well.

“The AMP scholarship I received last year and we’re making some really good progress this year with meetings with the DCC (Dunedin City Council) and Enterprise Dunedin.

“We’re pretty positive that things are going to be moving forward quite quickly and hopefully we’ll be able to get some funding soon.”

She says the Otago Polytechnic Veterinary Nursing School has also been supportive in providing facilities.

The project requires around $300,000 to $350,000 in operational costs every year.

“That includes enough staff to kind of start working with these animals but I foresee, I guess, it could increase in the next few years, I’m pretty positive our case load will just continue to rise.”

Because the clinic has access to a facility, it will save significantly on overhead costs, she says.

Donations to the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital can be made here.