Australia’s Smallest Penguin in Danger

When you think of Australian wildlife, a handful of unique animals come to mind. For sure, kangaroos, koalas and wallabies are iconic symbols of the land, and if you visit, it’s practically mandatory to go see them in action at the zoo (or in their native habitat). Little penguins, or fairy penguins, are just as iconic, even if they don’t get quite as much attention. Unfortunately, their existence as a species is in danger.

Like many other species, the little penguin is in trouble due to climate change. Unfortunately, the food chain that provides their nutrients has been disrupted: plankton are eaten by smaller fish like sardines, which are then eaten in turn by little penguins. When the water heats up, it’s harder for the plankton and small fish to survive. As a result, there has been less to eat for the penguins in recent years. Through GPS tracking, scientists have been able to confirm these patterns. They’ve also detected some adaptation, but there is a consensus that the rising temperatures are a critical danger.

Another endangering element is the presence of hunting foxes. When this animal was imported to Australia, they ended up swarming on little penguins, which were easy prey. Luckily, there has been one easily accessible proven solution: sheepdogs were used to protect them with great success in some areas, and it would be easy to duplicate such results wherever foxes are a factor. While climate change is a more difficult issue to tackle, it’s good to know that an easy, pragmatic intervention like this can make an impact and help protect the species.

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