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SAVING A TAWAKI PENGUIN FROM THE HIGHWAY NEAR WILDERNESS LODGE LAKE MOERAKI

24/02/12

Wandering along Highway Six a Tawaki pengiun was in danger of being hit by traffic until being rescued by the team at Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki with the help of their guests.

Wilderness Lodge guests Cees and Janny Bruinstroop from the Netherlands arrived at the Lodge at 2pm on February 21. They reported to Gerry McSweeney that a Tawaki penguin was in serious danger of being run over at the Knights Point Lookout on Highway 6 and that it was being harassed by many tourists chasing it with their cameras. 

Gerry phoned Haast Department of Conservation Ranger Moran Cannell to ask if he should go and see what was happening and if necessary collect the penguin and take it to the sea. Gerry found the Tawaki penguin surrounded by many people and it was walking beneath moving vehicles. He caught the penguin and took it to safety in the trees beside the highway. The penguin then ran straight back onto the middle of Highway 6 and was again nearly run over by a number of vehicles.

Gerry then bought the penguin back to the Wilderness Lodge and put it in a cardboard box. At 2.30pm, Guests Jim and Karen Bennett and Mark and Kathie Supriano from Vermont Bicycle Tours (VBT) were taken on a guided wilderness walk by Lodge Nature Guide Niall Mugan. For the first part of their trip, they took the Tawaki penguin with them in its box. At Robinson Crusoe Beach, they placed the box with the penguin on the sand. Emerging from the box, the penguin surveyed the scene then walked across the beach to the Tasman Sea and swam quickly out to sea. 

Wilderness Lodge Lake Moeraki Nature Guide, Niall Mugan, releases a lost Tawaki Penguin at Robinson Crusoe Beach.

Relieved to be back on the beach the Tawaki heads straight for the Tasman Sea

Tawaki penguins moult (replace their feathers) in the rainforest during January- February. They are not waterproof during moulting so they must remain in the forest. At the end of moulting, they head back to sea and do not return to the land until the start of their breeding season in June-July. At the end of moulting the birds can be disorientated and hungry. This penguin had lost its way after moulting and was stressed by people and vehicles. It will now stay at sea for the next 4-5 months until the breeding season.

Tawaki penguins with a world population of around 5,000 birds are the second rarest penguin in the world. They are only found in the South West corner of New Zealand

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