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Food scarce for Otago penguin breeding season

Wednesday 19 Feb 2014 4:59 p.m.

Otago's endangered yellow-eyed penguin population's battling for survival, with many chicks starving to death because food stocks are so low.

But a group of dedicated conservationists are doing all they can to ensure their survival. It's feast after famine for the young yellow-eyed penguins, recuperating at a purpose-built penguin hospital on the Otago Peninsula. They're getting a second chance.

"It is heart-breaking," says penguin caregiver Julia Clement. "Some of them look really awful when they come in, really skinny. You can see their keel, so that's sticking out, really boney – sacks of skin and bone basically."

Eighty hungry youngsters, many abandoned by their parents who were struggling to find food at sea when the chicks needed it most, are hand-fed twice a day using fish donated by companies around the country.

"It's not the best," says caregiver Phil Perrow. "There's a little bit of smell with it, but just get into it and you just get the job done. You want to make sure there's enough fish."

And so far there has been.

"We had a few come in under 2kg, and when they come in in that sort of shape we don't really expect them to survive," says Ms Clement. "But we have a few that have made it. They're a little bit underdeveloped in terms of feathers, so they're the ugly, fluffy ones that you see. But they're getting there."

But they're expecting many more admissions, so the constant hunt for food continues.

"We've got another tonne of fish coming from Talley's in Nelson, but that supply of fish will probably only last us a couple, two or three weeks, so any companies that could supply us with a bit of fish would be greatly appreciated," says Penguin Place manager Lisa King.

All going to plan, the first 10 to 15 penguins will be healthy enough to be released back into the wild early next month.

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