'Keep penguin experience free' - group

ALEXIA JOHNSTON
Last updated 13:09 25/06/2014
peter bennett
MYTCHALL BRANSGROVE/ Fairfax NZ

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Penguin spotter Peter Bennett is keen to protect Timaru's penguins and make them free for the public to view.

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Timaru penguin supporters are doing their bit to protect the birds from commercialisation.

A group of 15 people, who plan to form a committee over the coming weeks, are focused on giving people a chance to see the birds at no charge, group member Peter Bennett said.

"The Marine Parade location is the ideal area to safely observe them, with signage and minimal barriers to educate people to give them space. It's all about giving them the opportunity to become a visitor attraction in Timaru."

An annual count of the birds late last year found there were 42 adults and 11 chicks. The previous year there were 50 recorded.

Bennett said he was not sure exactly how many penguins there were in Timaru, despite the annual counts. Those involved in the count can only record the number of penguins they see.

"That's the unknown question," Bennett said, of the exact number. It's very probable there's a lot more than we know."

Bennett said penguins had set up homes along Waimataitai Beach, the North Mole and South Beach.

"There's certainly good numbers in those areas."

Signs have been placed at Marine Parade, informing visitors about the penguins.

"We want more signage to say you are free to view the penguins ... but please give them space - they are a wild animal but give them some freedom."

The group is also trying to identify what predators there are, if any.

Bennett said dogs were able to run free in the area during the winter months, which could prove a risk to the penguins.

He was keen to have something in place, which would stop dogs from running across the rocks where the penguins live, particularly when they are starting to nest, he said.

Bennett is pleased with the success of the group so far, which was still gaining public interest.

"It's quite surprising how many people have an interest in making things happen. I think we've got a little gem here in Timaru with not a lot of effort."

The newly-formed group includes representatives from Timaru District Council, Department of Conservation, Environment Canterbury, Forest & Bird, and the Timaru Port.

The group will meet again at the RSA at 7.30pm on July 8.

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- The Timaru Herald

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