It turns out the name “Sheepdog” may be all too limiting a moniker for these remarkable canines. “Penguindogs” may not have quite the same ring to it, but may be just as apt. Since 2005, Maremmas, an Italian breed of Sheepdogs, have been successfully guarding a colony of fairy penguins on a small island off the southern coast of Australia. The Maremmas have resurrected the endangered colony, whose numbers had dropped from 5,000 to 100 before the introduction of the heroic Sheepdogs/Penguindogs.
The Maremmas, who will surrender their own lives to defend the vulnerable creatures they watch over, have proved a stalwart deterrent against fairy penguin predators like wild dogs and foxes. Conservationists hope to build on this success and recruit the protective pooches to safeguard other endangered animals.