Busy time for lean penguin chick rescues

Close quarters . . . Packed together in safety at the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital last week, yellow-eyed penguin chicks wait patiently for their salmon smoothies. PHOTO: DR LISA ARGILLA

Up to seven litres of smelly salmon smoothie is being guzzled each day by hungry yellow-eyed penguin chicks at Dunedin Wildlife Hospital.

Bad weather and a poor fishing season for hoiho parents in the Catlins has meant the hospital has been overrun with starving chicks since Christmas.

In November-December 2018, the wildlife hospital admitted 11 penguin chicks, and total admissions jumped to 41 in January-February.

At one time, the hospital was caring for 27 penguins.

Collected from the beaches in a joint project between the Department of Conservation, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and the Wildlife Hospital, the starving chicks are checked over on arrival by wildlife vet Dr Lisa Argilla and her team.

They are then tube-fed smoothies of blended salmon, silverside, sardines, and electrolytes to get their digestive tracts working again, before changing to solid salmon.

Wildlife Hospital chairman Steve Walker said the some of the chicks could be quite feisty, leaving cuts and bruises on the vet-team’s arms, although most were grateful for the nutritious treat.

The penguins spend 3-5 days at the hospital, based in the Otago Polytechnic School of Vet Nursing, before being sent to Penguin Place conservation reserve on Otago Peninsula for fattening up and release back into the wild.

“For such an endangered species this type of intense intervention is necessary so that we can try and save as many birds as possible,” Mr Walker said.

Mr Walker said the community could help support the work by visiting the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital website and buying a loved one a fish smoothie for Valentine’s Day.