Handling penguin 'fatal move'

Last updated 13:14 31/01/2013
Bruce Vander Lee
HANDS OFF: Department of Conservation Motueka biodiversity manager Bruce Vander Lee with a young penguin which died on Tuesday after being handled by members of the public.

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A little blue penguin has died after being  picked up and handled by members of the public.

Department of Conservation Motueka  biodiversity manager Bruce Vander Lee said DOC received reports on Tuesday of a penguin  being  seen under a bush at Little Kaiteriteri near a pipe which he thought it may have been using as a burrow.

‘‘At that point someone decided it needed help and moved it.’’

DOC Motuka  then received a chain of phone calls about the penguin being handled.

The  area office staff told callers  that the bird should be left alone and placed back under the bush.

‘‘That evidently happened but not much later we had a call from a lady who said she had checked on the penguin and it looked very ill.

‘‘She was there when it died.’’

Mr Vander Lee said the  penguin was checked over by wildlife vet Mana Stratton, who found it was an adult bird just coming out of its moult.

‘‘At that stage they are  light in weight and usually dehydrated – it’s typical moult condition just before they are ready to return to the sea. They are also very sensitive to being disturbed at that stage.

‘‘The additional stress of  being handled could have killed it,’’ he said.

The people who handled the penguin had not been located, he said.

He said penguins, particularly ones in moult, were easily stressed by even the approach of dogs or humans and he advised people stay at least 5 metres away from penguins they saw. Ideally dogs should be put on their leads when penguins were seen nearby.

Mr Vander Lee said  New Zealanders’ love  of wildlife was fantastic, but people had to leave  wild animals alone and only summon help  through the DOC hotline  when they saw creatures with obvious injuries, he said.

‘‘Leave them alone. Animals are in their  natural environment and do not need saving.

‘‘Penguins appear to struggle on land  but they do not need help to get where they are going.

‘‘Seals always look sad, but unless they hang around for a couple of tide changes they are fine.’’

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