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Thursday 10 July 2008

One of Sydney's resident Little Penguins will today be released back into her home waters after some much needed care at Taronga Zoo.

Staff from Taronga's Wildlife Hospital released the penguin at North Curl Curl Beach after some intensive care at the Zoo. The penguin plunged back into the chilly waters after a quick dash across the beach.

The Penguin was brought into the Wildlife Hospital on June 2 very underweight and affected by parasites. A concerned member of the public found the little bird bobbing about near The Spit looking thin and lethargic.

Upon arriving at the Zoo, the Penguin received a thorough vet check at the Zoo's Veterinary and Quarantine Centre (VQC) including x-rays, blood tests and worming medication. Vets treated the bird for internal parasites which would have contributed to the penguin being underweight as no other medical problems were detected. Nursing staff then concentrated on improving the bird's weight and strength in readiness for its return to the ocean.

Veterinary Nurse, Amy Twentyman, said: "The Little Penguin is close to one year old and being a first year bird may have been finding it challenging to find the good fishing spots.  The Penguin built up condition in Taronga's Wildlife Hospital rehabilitation pool, where it was able to exercise and regain its strength for today's release."

"Since arriving at Taronga, the Penguin has made an excellent recovery, gobbling down its diet of fish and now weighs over a healthy one kilogram. It is time for the bird to return to its home waters," said Amy.

Although once fairly common in the Sydney area, Little Penguin numbers have diminished through a combination of reasons including coastal development, pollution, the presence of more people and attacks by domestic pets.

The Taronga Zoo Wildlife Hospital treats about 30 penguins annually as well as about 1500 other animals ranging from snakes and possums to echidnas and owls. Many of the animals are brought to the clinic by members of the public and wildlife rescue services.

Taronga has an excellent record of rehabilitating sea birds for release back into the wild, helping to maintain healthy populations. These include Sea Gannets, Southern Giant Petrels, Albatross and Little Penguins.

Taronga is committed to educating visitors about the importance of birds, the need to protect their habitat and the significance of practicing safe recreational activities in their environment.

The Zoo's new Great Southern Oceans exhibit features a breeding group of 36 Little Penguins which can be seen through underwater viewing windows showing after their masterful aquatic skills as they plunge through the artifical current and wave surges.  The Zoo also has the world's only breeding group of the endangered Fiordland Crested Penguin from New Zealand.

Little Penguin

The Little Penguin, also known as the Blue or Fairy Penguin, is the only penguin native to Australia.

Although once fairly common in the Sydney area, numbers have diminished through a combination of reasons including coastal development, pollution, the presence of more people and attacks by domestic pets.

The hardy little birds were once very common in Sydney and can still occasionally be glimpsed in the Harbour but shoreside development and domestic pets have driven most colonies away from metropolitan Sydney and its beaches.

Little Penguins range around the southern Australian coast, including Bass Strait and Tasmania, and are found as far north as Port Macquarie.  They are great swimmers with young birds found to have made journeys of over 1200 km.

These aquatic acrobats spend most of the daylight hours at sea, fishing, returning to their burrows at dusk, except when moulting prevents them going to sea.  They are capable of climbing steep, rocky ground to reach their burrows.

As recently as 20 years ago, Taronga Zoo received calls from Northern Beaches residents about the birds' cries which were loud and sounded unearthly as they set off for the ocean in the pre-dawn gloom.

The Zoo's Wildlife Hospital annually treats about 30 Little Penguins brought in by the community suffering from malnutrition and injuries.  Most are successfully rehabilitated.

Things You Can Do at the Beach to Help Little Penguins:

Keep dogs on leashes

Don't discard rubbish

Don't throw away tangled fishing lines which can snare penguins

Do protect beach trees and plants.

For more information contact Media Relations:

Ph: +61 2 9978 4606
Fax: +61 2 9978 4511

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