A little penguin attacked by a dog at Himatangi Beach recently has permanently lost sight in an eye will never be able to return to the sea, says the Department of Conservation.
The penguin, also known as a kororā, is recuperating at Palmerston North's Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery Centre.
During the attack, the adult kororā sustained life-threatening injuries, DoC said in a statement.
She was found in a very poor state, with several puncture wounds to the back of her neck and damage to her eyes. She was taken to Massey University's Wildbase Hospital for surgery.
Massey's wildlife technician Pauline Nijman said the kororā had feathers removed under anaesthetic to provide a clear surgical area, and the wounds debrided and stitched.
"Medications, including topical eye ointment, were used to help make her comfortable while these injuries healed.
"The permanent damage to the left eye only became apparent after the trauma had subsided."
Loss of vision means an inability to catch live food, usually requiring euthanasia, DoC said.
However, a captive home had been found for the bird. Once well enough, the kororā would be transferred to the National Aquarium in Napier.
Nijman said she hoped the traumatic story of the kororā would serve as a lesson of the human impact on our wildlife.
"She still has a way to go. With the back of her neck now bare of feathers, she is no longer waterproof. She needs time to regain these feathers and recover from surgery.
"In the past, this would've taken place at Wildbase Hospital but now we have been able to transfer the patient to Central Energy Trust Wildbase Recovery Centre – built for just this type of situation. This new centre allows us to still keep an eye on her and free up space for other surgical patients at the hospital."
While at the centre, the kororā had access to her own pool to build strength and movement. She was thriving on her diet of anchovies and mineral supplements, and had regained more than 5 per cent of her body weight during her rehab.
Kelly Hancock, Community Ranger at the Department of Conservation's Manawatu office, said the incident served as another reminder for people to keep their dogs on a leash or under close control at all times.
"It is heartening to see a positive outcome for this little penguin, thanks to the Wildbase team, but sad incidents like this are completely avoidable.
"People don't like to think that their dog would attack wildlife but it is natural behaviour for dogs."
Little penguins - named because they are the world's smallest penguin species - are only about 25cm tall and weigh just 1kg. They cannot defend themselves from attack.
"We can all help to take care of our special native species. Our choices can have a big impact on wildlife," Hancock said.
"We are really lucky we have so many beautiful natural places to explore. But we share these places with our taonga species; it's their home and they need space to rest and nest."
Members of the public are urged to contact the Department of Conservation via the DoC emergency hotline number 0800 DOCHOT (0800 36 24 68) to report injured native wildlife or instances of animal attack.