Happy feat of saving poorly penguins

CARE: Thomas Stracke and a penguin he is rehabilitating.

“All you need is love, and a penguin,” said the sign on the front door.

It’s the perfect slogan for the couple who live inside.

Halswell’s Kristina Schutt and Thomas Stracke have been looking after underweight and injured penguins at their suburban home for the past eight years.

Their organisation, Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation, is licensed by the Department of Conservation.

The German couple, who also work part-time as intensive care nurses at Christchurch Hospital, fell in love with penguins after seeing the birds at Oamaru when they visited New Zealand in the 1990s.

The current penguin breeding season, which runs from December-May, is their busiest yet with a peak of up to 14 penguins in their care at one time.

Their current charges are all white-flippered penguins, except one very precious yellow-eyed penguin chick that is covered in a downy, brown coat.

It has been named Fluffy and was brought in underweight from Shell Bay, Banks Peninsula.

The yellow-eyed chick is one of only three hatched on Banks Peninsula this season and the only one known to have survived. Although Fluffy is still on medication for an infection, the chick is moving around and will hopefully be able to return to the wild after a couple of months with Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation.

“We’re doing everything possible for this little guy,” Ms Schutt said.

Most of the birds are brought in by members of the public who come across them around the coast, or they are found by city council or DOC rangers.

At first, the chicks are given syringes filled with clear fluids to rehydrate them before they move on to a grey paste that Mr Stracke described as a “fish smoothie” for a few days. Then they are fed small salmon.

Ms Schutt said warmer sea temperatures are making life difficult for penguin chicks this year. They find it harder to feed because the fish tend to stay in deeper waters where it is cooler making them harder for juveniles to catch.

She and Mr Stracke are hand-feeding two white-flippered penguins which couldn’t survive in the wild when they arrived.

They are also looking after an adult white-flippered penguin with a deep seal bite on its back. It needed surgery at Hornby Veterinary Centre.

City council ranger project manager Andrew Crossland said the city is lucky to have such skilled and dedicated penguin rehabilitators.

“They’re doing a great service by saving our local penguin species and returning the birds to the wild.”

The penguins are given a name after 48 hours, Mr Stracke said.

Often they name the bird after the person who brings it in, so one of their feathered patients is called Steve.

When the birds have recovered, they are released as close as possible to the location where they were found.

Mr Stracke said it’s satisfying to see rescued birds set free. “It’s a good feeling to have done something.”

He said dog owners should keep their pets on a leash as loose dogs can be a threat to penguin chicks.

•Any penguins found should be placed in a box and kept in a cool, quiet place before calling DOC, a local veterinary clinic, or the Christchurch Penguin Rehabilitation on 967 7733. People should not try to give them food or water.