Massey wildlife vets are calling for dog-owners to keep their dogs on leads or to use muzzles at beaches after a little blue penguin was injured

Calls to restrain dogs on beaches after penguin injured

Watch wildlife specialists explain the penguin's injuries and surgery

A little blue penguin mauled by a dog on a Taranaki beach faces up to five operations at Massey University’s Wildbase Hospital as it recovers.

Now, wildlife veterinarians are asking dog owners to keep their dogs on leads or muzzled when on the beach this summer, to prevent more attacks.

A boy and his mother found the penguin on a beach near Spotswood on January 7, contacted the conversation department and it was later transferred to Wildbase.

The injured penguin could not walk on its right leg, had abrasions on its right foot, deep wounds to the bone on its right thigh, punctuated air sacs and water trapped in its lungs.

Wildlife veterinary resident Dr Serena Finlayson says tooth marks and size of the wound indicated a canine predator caused the injuries.

The dirty wound had sand down to the bone and while the penguin had had two operations already, more would be required to clean it. It could now stand on his leg, but was not out of the woods yet.

“We are more suspicious the reason he couldn’t stand on his legs is because he has neurological problems. When dogs catch them and shake them, they get a lot of trauma down the spine and nerves,” Dr Finlayson says.

“So this guy was really lucky as he didn’t have any bones broken or blood vessels severed, that’s why he lived, but he does have a paralysis. It looks like it’s not permanent because it’s starting to improve.

“But now our biggest worry is that because the wound went into air sacs there is a risk of contamination. I think we will have to do another two or three surgeries – so maybe five in total.”

A number of little blue penguins had come through Massey’s pathology unit during November and December for post-mortems, and several had died from dog attacks  – so the case was not a one-off.

Little blue penguins are found all along the New Zealand coastline, and during summer spend time on the shore or in burrows. Dogs can sniff the penguins out, put their heads in burrows, pull them out and cause horrific injuries, but owners could take measures to prevent attacks, Dr Finlayson says.

“New Zealanders need to be aware that on every beach, there could be little blue penguins. So we’re asking dog owners to keep all dogs on leads, or to use a muzzle when at the beach, as it’s the best way to prevent this from happening.”  

Wildbase is New Zealand’s only dedicated wildlife centre and is attached to Massey’s veterinary school. It is raising money to build new premises at the Massey’s Manawatū campus.

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