Friday, Feb 15th, 2019 is 2nd anniversary of passing of Oddball, the dog that helped save a penguin colony from extinction in real life and inspired the film “Oddball” in the year 2015.
This post is in honor of Oddball. Thank you for your hard work – we still have the little penguins in Middle Island.
In 2005, the migrating penguin colony population that made Middle Island their home 6 months of each year had dwindled down from over 130 to less than 10. They needed a solution to save the colony – they had only one chance – if it doesn’t work, alas, that would be the end of the penguins colony for Middle Island – a wildlife sanctuary.
After much handwringing, the Warrnambool Council members decide to implement a science student’s suggestion – will it work…???
Warrnambool, is an oceanside quaint city nestled in Victoria, Southwest Australia. It is a city surrounded by a collection of shipwrecks from its maritime history in Flagstaff Hill, a maritime village, rocky scenery of Thunderpoint coastal reserve, Shelly beach, Logans beach whale watching platform – in short – if you love water, history, animals, abundance of nature like I do – Warrnambool could compete to be on your bucket list.
Allan Marsh, “Swampy” as he likes to be called is a chicken (chook in Australian slang) farmer with a unique character. You meet him once and you will never forget him! His use of some choice words in his every day communication makes his chats and him unforgettable.
Like any human being, Swampy also is a multi-dimensional person. One of those dimensions happens to be his strong desire to be an inspiration to others – even if there happens to be just one person that he has inspired to challenge the status quo or a bureaucrat – he would consider his life’s finest achievement – His life fulfilled.
Swampy and his maremma sheepdog Oddball is the inspiration to a 2015 movie “Oddball” by Samuel Jacobson.
For centuries, maremma breed dogs have been used in Europe to guard farm animals from predators like wolf and fox. Swampy’s neighbor had one of these dogs and he used to tell Swampy how good they are with chickens.
Idea is born.
It was normal routine for Swampy to wake up several times in the middle of the night, grab his rifle to shoot a predator if there was one to make sure all his chickens were safe. One such night, he heard his neighbor’s dog barking constantly.
It occurred to him that the dog was barking at the fox that he had just spotted and was trying to shoot. And that sparked the idea in Swampy’s brain “ If I get the dog to protect my chickens?…..Umm.. I could get to sleep more peacefully at night!! Boy, can I use it!! ”.
He revelled on this thought. And he did something more than that….. He started acting on it!
Swampy goes into Action
He got maremma puppy named Oddball, trained it for 6 months while helping it develop a bond with his chickens and BINGO!
No more sleepless nights – no more shooting at the foxes – snooooze through the night and yet all his chickens are safe.
Swampy’s farm was a short distance from the coastal city Warrnambool. Middle Island lies just off the coast of Warrnambool.
‘The old fishers used to tell me when they were going out and loading up their boats early in the morning they couldn’t hear themselves think for all the penguins squawking,’ says Swampy.
Little penguins numbering up to 200 at one time nested and made their home in the Middle Island for 6 months of the year.
During low tide, foxes made their way to the island and was a start of an event – not a good one.
In 2005, the colony of penguins had dwindled down to under 10 and frightfully near extinction.
David Williams, a university student and a farmhand at Swampy’s farm at the time worte an essay on solving this problem for one his science projects.
The essay was based on what Swampy had said to him and stuck with him. Swampy said “What they need on that island is a maremma dog”.
As luck would have it – David’s father was a wildlife officer at the Dept of Environment and Sustainability who saw it as a plausible solution and after considerable hand wringing, was able garner enough support in the Warrnambool council to place a maremma dog on the island.
Implementation – Nervous time.
That is how Oddball ended up on the island along with David Williams to monitor the effects of the experiment – after all it was his essay that brought on this day. “Her first encounter with the penguins was pretty smooth and uneventful” as Williams put it.
Williams & company were quite nervous when the experiment began. They sat as the night was falling – waiting for the penguins to come up on the island. The first couple of penguins came up, noticed the dog and went right back into the water.
‘But then came a brave one. He just walked up to the dog and when Oddball went to sniff the penguins backside – “squawk” said the penguin and went straight for Oddball’s nose, Oddie jumped to the side and the penguin went on with his ’ – said Williams.
‘Oddie just popped to the side and the penguin marched on’ said Williams.
Oddball gave this experiment a jump start – she knew exactly what she was there for on the very first day. She started and stayed on the island only as long as she had to. Once the replacement dogs – a pair of sister maremma dogs were trained she went back to her old job – to take care of her chickens.
Thanks to Oddball and The penguin population grew to over 150 after the maremmas were deployed on the Middle Island.
Image courtesy: Roadshow Films via Youtube