Sheepdog ‘Bodyguards’ Protect Endangered Penguins from Foxes

Written by Michael Graham Richard

This is clever. Very clever. Sheepdogs are bred and trained to protect sheep against wolves, but that doesn’t mean that their skills can’t be used to protect different animals against other species of predators. This is exactly what the Maremma Project did on Warrnambool’s Middle Island, off the south coast of Australia. They took 2 Maremma sheepdogs, a breed originally from central Italy, and brought them to the island to protect a dwindling and seriously endangered population of Little Penguins from foxes.

The situation was dire around seven years ago when the sheepdogs were introduced: Where a colony of around 1,500 Little Penguins once thrived, only 4 breeding pairs remained. The colony was truly on the brink of extinction, at least on the island. We first wrote about this about four-and-a-half years ago, and since then things have kept improving, surpassing the expectations of pretty much everyone involved. The last census showed about 200 breeding adults, but most importantly, not one Little Penguin has been killed by a fox since their dog bodyguards landed on the island!

The Little Penguin (aka Fairy Penguin or Little Blue Penguin) is the smallest species of penguin. It only grows to about 13 inches and is found on the coastlines of southern Australia, New Zealand, with possible sightings in Chile.


Above is an Australian fox. They can reach Middle Island when the tide is low.

MGerety/Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a video about the Maremma Project:

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.


Top photo: snowmanradio/Wikimedia Commons


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

N R C4 years ago



Mark Donners
Mark Donner4 years ago

I don't agree with the use of 1080, it's a highly toxic poison that kills everything in its path. Criminals at the US Fish and Wildlife use it to basically exterminate all wildlife in an area, and it kills dogs and children. They use it heavily in New Zealand too, American corporations spread their toxic environment poisons everywhere

Elizabeth M.
Elizabeth M4 years ago

This really is such a clever idea! Beautiful sheep dogs doing something they are trained for - only different animals. Thank You Michael for this story.


Fred Hoekstra
Fred Hoekstra4 years ago

Thank you TreeHugger, for Sharing this!

Gita Sasi Dharan
Gita Sasi Dharan4 years ago

Wonderful work, great dogs! Thanks for sharing.

A P.
A P4 years ago

Great idea!

Neil S.
Neil S4 years ago

it should be noted as well as the fact that the fox is not a native animal and should be erradicated (humanely) along with all other introduced species (both fauna and flora) unless kept domestically or in very controlled enclosures. that while these dogs are doing a great job, dogs as a general rule also damage the environment in much the same way domestic and feral cats do (albeit not as much) - they instinctively hunt; in urban and suburban areas they kill all manner of animals ranging from koalas, possums and avians to amphibians, reptiles and insects. introduced species which people would like to keep need to be de-sexed (unless you are a registered breeder), registered and chipped and also kept on the owners premisses at all times unless on a leash being attended by the owner whilst out of it. there are "animal lovers" out there who claim this is extreme and cruel but i beg to differ, not taking this action is murder! murder to native species that exist no where else on the planet and have more right to exist here in Australia than the species introduced by whatever means. so if you really love animals you will realise that such measures do not actually harm the "pet" species but also protect and nurture the native species too. the other thing which needs to occur is the humane erradication of introduced species from wilderness areas.

Mary L.
Mary L4 years ago

Great news. I hope that other penguins were imported to spread the genes out.

Glenda L.
Glenda L4 years ago

Lovely story!!! Dogs are brilliant.