Middle Island, a picturesque outcrop located off the coast of southern Victoria in Australia, is home to a colony of the world’s smallest penguins. Originally known as fairy penguins, these adorable little birds are no taller than a foot and weigh only about 1kg. There used to be hundreds of them at one point, but their population dwindled as they were hunted by foxes. That is, until a chicken farmer came up with an ingenious solution to use dogs as bodyguards for the penguins.
The problem was first noticed in the year 2000, when the sea’s natural current led to increased sand-build up, encouraging a growth in the fox population. The island is uninhabited by humans, and separated from the mainland by a 30-meter stretch of water. So at low tide, it’s easy for the foxes to cross from the mainland and reach the island, and hunt the adorable penguins.
Soon, the fairy penguin population started dwindling to the point where they were in danger of being completely wiped out “We went from a point where we had about 800 penguins down to where we could only find four,” said Peter Abbott from the Penguin Preservation Project. “In our biggest bird kill, we found 360 birds killed over about two nights. Foxes are thrill killers. They’ll kill anything they can find. The colony really was on its last legs and just one more fox attack would’ve finished it off.”