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Vets to investigate yellow-eyed penguin deaths

Vets to investigate yellow-eyed penguin deaths

PALMERSTON NORTH – Veterinarians at the University’s Wildlife Ward are investigating the cause of death of all but one of endangered yellow-eyed penguins hatched on Stewart Island this breeding season.

Dr Andrew Hill, a wildlife vet in the Institute of Veterinary Animal and Biomedical Sciences, spent two weeks on Stewart Island collecting blood samples, and another week on Southland’s Caitlin Coast studying the population there.

He says only one of 32 chicks on the island has survived the mystery illness, in which the chicks diedat between the ages of five and ten days, but that the Caitlin coast population looked healthy.

He says chicks’ symptoms and samples point to one of two conditions – a blood parasite transmitted by sandflies which destroys red blood cells and leaves chicks weak and vulnerable to infection, or an avian mouth disease which affects the chicks’ ability to feed.

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust says this year’s breeding season, with a success rate of less than 3 per cent, is the worst since monitoring began four years ago when started its five-year research programme into the island’s declining penguin population.

ENDS

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