Penguin injuries prompt dog muzzle plea
Life has become a balancing act for a little blue penguin mauled by a dog, prompting wildlife specialists to plead with pet owners to muzzle their canine companions.
A juvenile male penguin arrived at Palmerston North's Massey University's Wildbase Hospital in desperate need of help after a dog attack left him struggling to stand, with gashes on his right flank, punctured air sacs and water trapped in his lungs.
The penguin was picked up by a young boy on a beach near Spotswood, New Plymouth, given to the Department of Conservation and transferred to Massey last week.
Wildlife specialists are calling for dog owners to muzzle their pets to prevent further attacks after an influx of little blue penguins flooded into the animal hospital last month.
Wildlife veterinarian Dr Serena Finlayson said initial fears were the little blue had broken bones.
However an X-ray revealed only more moderate injuries.
"When it arrived here, it couldn't walk on its leg and it was dragging it along."
Dr Finlayson said the four puncture wounds pointed to toothmarks left by a bigger canine predator.
"We were suspicious it was a dog because of the bite wounds, and dogs, when they grab little penguins, they tend to shake them and create deeper, wider lacerations. This guy was really lucky because he didn't have any bones broken, he didn't have any major blood vessels severed - that's why he lived - but he does have a paralysis."
Dr Finlayson said it wasn't a one-off. Summer time sees penguins spending more time on shore as they care for their chicks and dogs sniff little blue penguins out of their beachside burrows.
A higher number of little blue penguins than usual came through Massey's pathology unit last month with a handful having serious dog-inflicted wounds. "They had massive haemorrhages, and there was one where the dog had crushed it and severed its spine in two spots."
If dogs are off the lead, a muzzle would be the best option, Dr Finlayson said.
"Little blue penguin are found along the entire New Zealand coastline - they have their little hidey holes in sand dunes, but New Zealanders just need to be aware that there could be a penguin in there."
Palmerston North's penguin won't be able to return to beachside living until his feathers grow back and he is waterproof, which is anticipated to be weeks away.