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Environment

What to learn from Oddball, the dog protecting penguins

Meet Oddball, a Maremma sheepdog who protects penguins threatened by foxes. His cuddly presence has saved a group of blue penguins known as fairy penguins (the tiniest species of penguins known.)

Oddball represents a solution to conservation that’s a little outside of the box, but it's been extraodinarily effective on Middle Island in Australia.

Previously, foxes had attacked the penguins during low tide. Over time, they reduced the population to 27 chicks from 20,000. A nearby farmer saw the dire situation and had the brilliant idea to use his trusty dog Oddball to help out.

Oddball is a not a guard dog, but a guardian dog. This means Oddball is aware of his environment and protects anything in that area from outsiders. So in this case, when Oddball adapted to island life he became the guardian dog of the penguins who naturally inhabit the island.

The foxes can hear and smell Oddball and a few other Maremma sheepdogs and stay away from the territory as a result. If a fox came into the penguin's vicinity, Oddball would chase it away. 

Today there are over 200 penguins and it’s large source of tourism and income to preserve the ecological balance of the island.

It has been 10 years since Oddball began protecting Middle Island and now Eudy and Tula (named after the scientific name for the penguins: Eudyptula) have taken over duty.

Check out 3:28 in this video to find out what happened the first time Oddball met the penguins.

And stay tuned for what is sure to be an adorable movie coming soon.

But what does a dog protecting penguins have to do with ending poverty? Actually, a lot more than you might think.

First, the ecological preservation Oddball supports on Middle Island is related to a much bigger picture. Protecting threatened species helps maintain the delicate balance of ecosystems. When species go extinct, there's inevitably a ripple effect in an ecosystem. Sometimes this ripple effect can be disastrous, as when a predator that keeps a different predator in check dies off, allowing the previously hunted predator to go on an eating spree. 

Oftentimes, countries and local regions rely heavily on tourism (which provides funding for conservation) and when species that bring in tourism are threatened it can discourage visitors from coming. This, in turn, harms the broader economy by cutting jobs and incomes and leading to higher rates of poverty. Sustainable infrastructure and not relying solely on a tourist economy is necessary for ending poverty,no doubt, but protecting endangered animals and environments is also part of creating a world without poverty.

The last thing to learn from friendships and guardianship between species is it helps us look beyond humanity’s socially created biases and fears. If dogs can protect penguins, and penguins can learn to not fear these dogs, surely humans can learn to move past fears that act as barriers to creating a peaceful global society.