Editorial: Looking a gift horse ...

PETER O'NEILL
Last updated 05:00 20/12/2013
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OPINION: It's probably time to do a little more homework on Timaru's little blue penguins.

Actually, it's a bit rich to say "Timaru's penguins". They chose us, we didn't choose them.

But as they have, and they are a potential asset rather than a liability, we should consider looking after them a bit.

Not running over them in our cars or letting our dogs hassle them would be a good start.

How far we go shielding them from us is up for debate, as the beach area is used in a variety of recreational and business ways, but Department of Conservation ranger George Iles says one thing he's noticed of late is how vulnerable the penguins are.

Sure, some nesting boxes have been built, some shrubs and trees planted and there are a couple of signs, but that's about it. And the little fellas are so ... little.

Should we be making more effort? Well, yes, from an environmental stance (it helps that they are cute), and from a potential money-making one.

Crass? Maybe, but if Oamaru's penguin colony can attract 100,000 people a year at $5 a child and $10 an adult, well, you're allowed to be a bit crass.

Especially as the other thing Mr Iles noted while on penguin count duty at Caroline Bay this week was the number of tourists who were there. Three Germans, a couple of Israelis and six out-of-town Kiwis on Tuesday night alone, all of whom can only have heard about the penguins through word of mouth.

I'm not sure what the right approach is here as a redeveloped Caroline Bay is delivering as envisaged, and it's been agreed a cafe can be built close to the beach.

But penguins didn't figure in that plan and some concessions would need to be made on access to certain areas. We might or might not want that.

So far cohabitation between penguins and people is for the most part working, and the population seems to be maintaining a base of around 50 birds.

But if tourists are starting to turn up of their own accord, as the penguins did, maybe we should give this a little more thought.

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- The Timaru Herald

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