The Little Penguins on Middle Island in Australia had a major problem on their hands: foxes.
Beginning around 2000, the creatures, standing a mere 30 cm to 40 cm tall, were becoming an easy kill for foxes, after a shift in the tide caused access to the island.
The Little Penguins’ home is only 20 to 30 meters from the mainland and 15 years ago, the sea’s current caused sand build up, making it extremely easy for foxes to come over to Middle Island and have their takings. Over the years, the colony went from 800 Little Penguins (yes, this is there real name) to only a handful.
This is when chicken farmer Allan “Swampy” Marsh decided to do something about the problem. In 2005, the Australian resident asked local authorities if his Maremma dog Oddball could protect the species. Usually, this breed is used for guarding sheep, goats or chickens, but Marsh believed Oddball was up to the challenge of being responsible for these little birds. And he definitely did.
“We immediately saw a change in the pattern of the foxes,”Peter Abbott from the Penguin Preservation Project told the BBC.
“Leading up to when the dog went on the island, every morning we’d find fox prints on the beach. Putting a dog on the island changed the hierarchy,” Abott told the outlet. “The foxes can hear the dogs barking, they can smell them so they go somewhere else.”
Since Oddball and his successors were tasked with protecting the Little Penguins a decade ago, there has not been one penguin killed by a fox on the island, causing the population to increase to approximately 200.
The current dog patrol squad are two Maremma dogs named Eudy and Tula, named after the scientific term for Little Penguins: Eudyptula.
The dogs spend five to six days on the island during the penguin breeding season — between October and March. When the dogs aren’t on Middle Island their scent is still detected by the foxes — keeping them at bay.
This tale turned into a film, fittingly named Oddball, and is beginning to get national attention. (In Australia, it has already grossed around $8 million.)
“It’s a great story. We’re trying to save a cute penguin with a couple of cute dogs but the movie has taken things to a different level,” Abbott told the outlet.
Catch a preview of Oddball below: