Cyclists feared a threat to penguins

Cyclists illegally using Mauao's base track for evening rides are endangering the site's little blue penguins, wildlife experts and concerned residents say.

Pilot Bay resident Cathy Wise enjoys an evening stroll around Mauao but has been alarmed at cyclists speeding round the base track after dark.

She said it was only a matter of time before some of the penguins were struck, if they had not been already.

"There are quite a few penguins coming up at the moment," said Ms Wise, who walks the Mauao track daily around 7pm. "There's some on the rocks below but a number come up on to the pathway. You can see them scrambling and scampering about, they're really lovely."

Ms Wise told the Bay of Plenty Times she saw a group of at least six cyclists on Wednesday. It was the latest of numerous recent sightings. She called out to them to watch out for the penguins, which are world's smallest penguin species, but received no response.

"As a pedestrian you get dazzled by the bike lights so I'm sure the same thing happens to the penguins.

It would be awful if any of them got harmed. People need to be aware of the wildlife and do everything they can to preserve it."

Chrissy Jefferson, who has run the Oropi Native Bird Rescue Haven for five years, said she had five phone calls about the cyclists yesterday..

"Dogs and humans are the biggest threat to penguins. People who cycle round the base track are showing no respect for wildlife and I would urge them to stop. There are plenty of other places to cycle.

"It's coming up to breeding season. Between August and November the penguins will lay their eggs. Both parents help with incubation and feeding and the one on the eggs will not leave until the other returns with food. So if one is struck by a bike and does not return, the one on the nest will die and the eggs will be lost as well," said Mrs Jefferson, who was caring for one penguin which had been attacked by a dog.

"If you do see a penguin on the track just let it cross," added the wildlife expert who has been rehabilitating birds for more than 50 years. "They're pretty feisty and will give you a nip. Also the oil on our hands affects the waterproofing on their feathers. That's why we always wear gloves when handling them."

Mark Ray, who has been park ranger at Mauao for seven years, said neither cyclists nor dogs were allowed on Mauao's base track.

"They are breaking a local bylaw and would be fined if caught. We don't want cyclists there, not just because of the penguins but because of night walkers as well. These cyclists are travelling pretty fast by all accounts; one slip and the pedestrians could be down in the rocks."

Mr Ray said some of the penguins, which come ashore at dusk, had their burrows above the base track and this explained their presence.

Little blue penguins

Common Names: Little penguin, blue penguin, little blue penguin, fairy penguin

Maori Name: Korora

Colour: Slate blue plumage; white chin, throat and shirt front; blue-grey flippers

Standing height: 35-43cm

Flipper length: 11-13cm

Weight: Avg. 1100-1200g

Breeding range: New Zealand, Chatham Islands, Southern Australia

The Blue Penguin Trust

- Bay of Plenty Times

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