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Disastrous Die-off

Mystery illness threatens world`s rarest penguin

New Zeland`s rare Yellow-eyed Penguins are suffering from a mysterious illness that has killed up to 80% of chicks in the worst affected areas of the South Island. Most penguin chicks have been found dead at nests on Otago Peninsula and North Otago, with other outbreaks on Stewart Island and the Catlins coast. With a global population of just under 5,000 birds, the Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes is classified by BirdLife as Endangered and is considered to be the world`s rarest penguin species. Its main threats are introduced predators such as cats and stoats, habitat loss and degradation, and occasional population crashes (similar to this one) due to disease or food shortages.New Zealand`s Department of Conservation (DoC) are currently running tests to try and pinpoint the extent and nature of the illness, which is thought to be caused by a strain of cornyne bacterium. There are more than 50 strains of this type of infection, one of which causes human diphtheria.

This latest die-off is terrible news for the world`s rarest penguin species.

This latest die-off is bad news for the world`s rarest penguin species. Subpopulations on the south-east coast of the South Island and Stewart Island are already in decline and this will only add to the pressures this endangered species faces, said Barry Weeber, Senior Conservation Officer, Forest and Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand).

So far it seems that only chicks are susceptible to the illness, with adult birds fortunately remaining healthy. Some accessible chicks on Otago Peninsula however are being given antibiotics to help fight any infection. Large nearby colonies of Little Penguins Eudyptula minor do not appear to have been affected.

I was lucky to see these wonderful birds this year and am devastated to hear this news Fatbirder.

4th July 2014