Dog checks for penguins on Cobham Drive ahead of work

1 February 2019

Conservation dog Mena and handler Alastair Judkins yesterday worked along Cobham Drive to check for penguins, burrows and other roosting areas in the lead-up to redevelopment work starting in the area soon.

Photo is looking back along Cobham Drive towards the Evans Bay Marina. In the foreground there is a dog handler with a penguin detection dog on a lead. Both are wearing high viz and the dog is muzzled to be on the safe side. They are walking on a path next to the sea. In the distance you can see yachts in the marina, and houses on the hillside.

Dog handler Alastair Judkins with penguin detection dog Mena

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The penguin detection experts from Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute (KORI) searched the vegetation and rocks along the foreshore to map spots where little blue penguins have been nesting or resting so special care can be taken in these locations.

They saw two penguins, and found two other spots where penguins have been spending time. In line with resource consent conditions, these areas will be fenced off  before work begins to create 10m safe zones.

Six-year-old Mena is a New Zealand-born Hungarian Vizsla, a type of pointer that has been specially trained to find places where penguins may be, or have been, regularly frequenting. She is certified by the Department of Conservation to work as a conservation dog as part of its Conservation Dogs Programme.

“Rather than barking or chasing, she will sniff, sit and point when she finds something of interest, and is trained to ignore other types of wildlife that may be in the area,” Alastair says.

“For instance on one job, both black-backed gulls and Canadian geese were nesting and she was able to quietly weave her way through them to locate penguin nests.”

When working, Mena wears a high-viz vest, and a muzzle, and is also on a lead just to be on the safe side. Outside of work, she is a family pet who loves tennis balls – something she sometimes finds washed up along the shore.

The penguin protection work is just one of the ways Wellington City Council is working to safeguard wildlife as part of the project, which involves developing better quality walking and bike paths and landscaping and replanting sections of this important coastal route.

Earlier in the month, the Council worked with the Department of Conservation, reptile specialists from Wildland Consultants, Victoria University and local iwi Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika to relocate 380 native grass skinks from the area.

Victoria University will be monitoring the lizards and doing follow-up research.

The Council is also in the early stages of working with Predator Free Wellington to potentially install traps, and a light barrier (area of very bright light) along Cobham Drive that will help with the goal to make Te Motu Kairangi/Miramar Peninsula predator-free.

The Council’s Portfolio Leader for the Natural Environment, Councillor Peter Gilberd, says the improvements happening are part of a wider plan to make it easier and safer for more people of all ages and abilities to walk or bike, something which will have wide ranging health, transport and environmental benefits.

“Considerable time, effort, and collaboration has been going on ahead of work starting to minimise and mitigate the impacts on native wildlife,” he says. “It’s something that we are required to do in some cases, but also something we are commited and keen to do because we want Wellington to be an eco-centric city where nature and people thrive together.

“After laying the paths, we’ll be landscaping areas along the route. Additional rocks and logs will be brought in, and some of the hardy native plant species that will be going in around them, will all help create habitat that should in time be even more appealing to lizards and penguins than what’s there at the moment.”

The new-look route into the city from the east has been named Tahitai, a name that has been gifted by Taranaki Whānui ki te Upoko o te Ika and means one tide.

More information about Alastair and Mena is available at kori.org.nz

There’s more information on DOC’s Conservation Dogs Programme at doc.govt.nz