Deadly virus threatens penguin population

  • 26/11/2010

By Annabelle Jackman

The Department of Conservation is fighting a virus that is killing yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula.

The avian diphtheria has already killed 40 chicks and DoC is trying to stop it spreading.

“They get these cheesy sores around their bill that makes it hard for them to eat and swallow and they end up dying often from kidney failure,” says David Agnew from DoC.

Mr Agnew believes the chicks contracted the virus from their home environment.

They are being treated with antibiotics, and every precaution is being taken to prevent the virus from being transferred to other birds.

“For staff visiting separate colonies all footwear clothing and equipment is thoroughly disinfected before going to a new site to reduce the chance of us spreading the disease,” he says.

And everyone is working to ensure breeding numbers are maintained.

“They are very vulnerable to this avian diphtheria within the first two to three weeks of life. And so they're just hatching at the moment so this is an extremely vulnerable time,” says Sue Murray from The Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust.

The next few weeks will be critical for the endangered Hoiho.

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