Keepers at Melbourne Zoo were devastated yesterday to find 14 of their beloved little penguins massacred in the Wild Sea exhibit – with suspicion that the culprit could still be lurking within the zoo grounds.
The assassin’s identity is clear – an urban fox. They are widespread in Melbourne and they make short work of chickens or any other small, flightless bird.
The surviving 15 penguins were checked by veterinarians at the zoo and moved into a secure area at the Veterinary Department, “where they will be safe until it is confirmed that the fox has either left the Zoo or been caught,” a statement from Melbourne Zoo said.
Wild Sea’s manager Justin Valentine said that the surviving penguins were uninjured and were all settling in to their temporary accommodation, the area used for many years as the penguin feeding school. The birds are little penguins, also known as fairy penguins, the same species that delight tourists at Phillip Island.
Keepers have suspected for the past week that a fox had managed to enter the zoo, but so far the traps and camera traps set up have been unsuccessful in locating it. Foxes are renowned for their cunning, and as the zoo’s 22 hectares include large areas of densely planted vegetation surrounded by parkland, foxes find it relatively easy to hide during the day.
The zoo is working with a fox control expert and he will be visiting today.
Foxes thrive in Melbourne’s parks and suburbs, but their nocturnal pattern of activity means people are seldom aware of their presence.
Fortunately foxes rarely manage to enter the Zoo grounds. Extra measures will be taken today to further fox-proof the gates, the zoo has confirmed.
Written by Peter Needham