After almost a decade of protecting penguins, Tula the maremma is retiring.
Tula, now 11, is no longer able to climb the stairs to access Middle Island.
Tula and her sister Eudy were the first maremma puppies trained specifically to protect penguins on Middle Island, and have stoically maintained their vigil for the past eight penguin breeding seasons.
Middle Island Project Coordinator Dr Patricia Corbett said that without Tula and Eudy, their probably wouldn’t be penguin colony on Middle Island.
“She’s been training to protect Middle Island since she was a puppy,” she said.
“She’s an incredible dog. She has been the lead guardian for all of that time.”
Dr Corbett said that Tula would still be active in her retirement.
“She’ll still be helping us out at the farm where the maremmas rest protecting chickens,” she said.
“She also does a fantastic job teaching the new pups, so she is still an asset to our team.
“She’s done so much hard work over the years, we really want to thank her.”
Founding member of the project, John Sutherland, recalled carrying Tula over to Middle Island in his arms when she was a puppy.
“She’s a beautiful dog. She did a top job on the island and I’m very proud of her,” he said.
“We’ve had film crews from nearly every country in the world come to see Eudy and Tula at work.”
Eudy is expected to complete one more season on the island alongside new guardians Mezzo and Isola.
“Mezzo and Isola are shaping up to be amazing guardians,” Dr Corbett said.
“We’re really touched by the amount of comments and support we’ve had since we announced Tula’s retirement.”
The Middle Island Maremma Project began in 2006 when there was a sharp decline in the colony size of Little Penguins on Middle Island due to fox predation.
By 2005 there were fewer than 10 penguins on the island.
A local chicken farmer, Swampy Marsh, suggested maremma guardian dogs could be used to protect the penguins. Swampy had successfully used maremmas to help protect his free range chickens.
In a world-first, maremma dogs were trained and placed on Middle Island to protect the penguins from foxes during the breeding season. The project has been a huge success, with the colony increasing to more than 100 penguins today.
The Middle Island Project Working Group are grateful to both the Vet Group and PetStock Warrnambool who have kindly agreed to continue to sponsor Tula with her food and veterinary requirements.