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Festive hoiho! Endangered penguins wear onesies

December 18, 2018 Headline News No Comments Email Email

There’s a new dress code for sick and injured endangered penguins at a popular New Zealand wildlife hospital – as the photo below shows, the penguins are now wearing the latest in baby onesies, the practical all-in-one baby garment.

The development may see underwear manufacturer Bonds produce specially designed onesies for penguins.

It started when vets at Penguin Place, a wildlife hospital on Otago Peninsula near Dunedin, began using baby onesies to aid the recuperation of endangered yellow-eyed penguins, also known by their Maori name, hoiho.

The onesie has turned out to be a good way of preventing the penguin patients from scratching or pecking at their wounds. This gives new feathers the chance to grow, letting the birds heal.

Unique to New Zealand, the yellow-eyed (hoiho) penguin is one of the world’s rarest penguin species. (“Hoiho” has no connection with “ho ho” – a traditional exclamation by Santa Claus at Christmastime.)

The innovative onesie idea came about when wildlife hospital staff were faced with treating a juvenile yellow-eyed penguin with substantial feather damage.

“Just like any toddler the little one insisted on picking at his wounds, not allowing new feathers to grow,” Dunedin Wildlife Hospital Trust chairman, Steve Walker, said.

The baby onesies provided the perfect solution. Walker says the penguin fashionista in question, known as Plucky, is now convalescing at Penguin Place wildlife centre where he is something of a sensation with visitors lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

“It seems that babies of all species need bespoke wardrobe items and this little guy is now on the mend thanks to this snappy fashion choice.”

Naturally the baby onesie, which normally domes underneath a baby’s bottom, required some modification to fit the baby penguin’s body shape. Penguin Place has now approached the garment manufacturer Bonds with the idea of creating specially designed onesies for penguins.

Penguin in a onesie. The all-in-one baby garment stops a penguin patient from scratching and plucking, thus allowing new feathers to grow. Photo, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital

Dunedin is the “wildlife capital of New Zealand”, with many rare and endangered species inhabiting the surrounding area. Before the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital opened in early 2018, injured yellow-eyed penguins were flown to the North Island and only had a 40-50% chance of survival. That survival rate has now risen to nearly 88%.

The charity is hoping Bonds will take them up on the offer and donate a percentage of sales to the hospital’s operation, in addition to raising awareness of New Zealand’s unique but critically endangered wildlife.

The penguins, aptly named because of their yellow eyes, breed on the east coast of New Zealand. On the Otago Peninsula, just 10 minutes’ drive from Dunedin city centre, numbers have dropped by 76% since the mid-1990s and face possible local extinction in the next 20 to 40 years. Ongoing conservation and protection of the species is an integral part of their survival, and the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital plays a pivotal role in this.

Penguin Place is one of the Otago Peninsula’s best-loved wildlife experiences where visitors can view penguins and other wildlife at close quarters. Wildlife lovers exploring Dunedin have a range of opportunities to see wildlife – both yellow-eyed and korora little blue penguins, sea lions and fur seals, albatross and seabirds – on one of several wildlife tours on land and sea, including Penguin Place and the Royal Albatross Centre which is the world’s only mainland breeding colony of the northern royal albatross.

Edited by Peter Needham

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