Eco-tourism is swiftly gaining popularity all over the world because people are more aware of their impact on everything around them. The people behind Pohatu Penguins work to increase the population of Little Blue Penguins in the area through scientific research and study as well as good old hard work. They employ scientists who try to document each bird or pair. Once a year volunteers scour the hills to count nesting pairs and their chicks. In addition to this, they invite tourists to their facility to promote education and awareness.
When we arrived at the conservation area, they gave us an overview of the program and we were lucky enough to see live chick feedings. Normally, the group doesn’t get involved with the raising of chicks. However, if, while observing the nests, they notice that one chick isn’t developing at the same rate as its sibling, they remove it from the nest and care for it. The reason one chick is bigger and healthier than the other is because their parents aren’t able to supply enough food to feed both. The parents select the stronger chick and pour all their resources into it.
At the time we visited, they were caring for three chicks. Each had its own nest and were hand-fed twice a day. To feed the chick, it is placed between the knees and held close. In the wild, chicks stand between the adult’s feet to be fed. Then, the pieces of fish are slid into their eager mouths. There is a lot of squawking and wing flapping going on during feedings. This is the chick’s way of showing its delight and happiness.
After the feedings, we went on a short bush walk to check out the artificial nests that Pohatu Penguins installs across the hillside. The abundance of safe, solid nesting facilities encourages them to continue to breed in the area where they are closely monitored and stay safe. Our scientist guide told us how to decide whether a nest was in use or not. He also explained the presence of feathers and pointed out the difference between fresh and old feces patterns. Then, we went to the hides, covered and camouflaged observation areas, to see if we could spot wild penguins or other animals in the water. This, I admit, was really difficult to do. Penguins playing in the water look like tiny black dots. Even when our guide pointed out a group, many of the people couldn’t find them in the sights of their binoculars.
I’m glad that Marilyn and I found Pohatu Penguins. The eco-tourism packages they offer are a nice way to support groups that keep animals safe and protect nature. The natural beauty of the area was just stunning. The added bonus of learning about the wildlife made the experience even more magical.