Fairytale ending for penguin population - 25 August 2015

Roadside fatalities are tearing apart families of penguins on the west coast of New Zealand - with more than 100 penguins killed by motor vehicles in the last five years. 

One of the worst stretches is the Great Coast Road, which is also one of the top 10 coastal drives in the world according to Lonely Planet due to its proximity to the stunning coastline which boasts an abundance of wildlife including hectors dolphins and blue penguins. 

Local residents and members of the West Coast Penguin Trust were left scratching their heads about the best solution, so they contacted fencing contractor John McLaren. 

Based in Westport on NZ’s south island, Mr McLaren has worked with a lot of animals during his 15 years of fencing, but until recently penguins were far from being on that list. 

“I’ve fenced in all breeds of cattle (both dairy and beef), sheep, goats and pigs just to name a few. I’ve also fenced out rabbits, wild dogs and feral cats. But until last year – penguins not so much,” he said. 

But thanks to his expertise, this story has a happy ending. 

“To my knowledge there has not been one dead penguin found near the 2.5km fence line that we installed alongside the Great Coast Road near Punakaiki,” he said. 

Mr McLaren said the fence needed to be highly durable to ensure that the world’s smallest penguin species, sometimes referred to as Fairy Penguins, would be safe from the onslaught of traffic for lifetimes to come. 

All the materials and labour costs for the project were financed by money raised for the West Coast Penguin Trust. 

Mr McLaren used Waratah’s Jio® Star® posts to add strength to the fence line, and spaced them at 5m intervals with two runs of plain wire. 

The specialised hot dipped galvanized coating on the Jio posts was a crucial factor to consider for Mr McLaren to ensure protection from the corrosive ocean air. 

Additional plastic netting used on the fence to keep the colonies safe was donated to the Trust. 

“The plastic netting was attached to the wire and posts to prevent the penguins from climbing through the fence. Another metre of the netting was buried underneath the ground to stop the birds from burrowing,” he said. 

“Full credit goes to the West Coast Penguin Trust, plus the small group of local volunteers who even helped with actually erecting the fence.” 

The Trust conducts research into the ecology of the small penguins in order to better understand their needs and threats to them. On the basis of its research, the Trust instigates practical conservation projects that benefit both coastal wildlife and the community. 

Standing at just 35-43cm tall and weighing in at no more than 1.5kg, the tiny penguins are found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand.