Meet the Dog That Saved a Colony of Penguins from Extinction


Allan Marsh, a farmer who prefers to be called Swampy, and his dog Oddball have made a big difference for a group of penguins just a few miles from their home on the Australian coast in Victoria.

Oddball is a maremma sheepdog, a breed that’s been used for centuries to keep other animals safe from potential predators in Europe. Marsh got Oddball to help him keep his crops safe from native foxes, but the friendship of man and man’s best friend became something far more important before long.

“I used to spend my nights up with a rifle shooting foxes. One night I noticed the neighbour’s dog barking and the light went on in my head,” Marsh said. “I realised he was barking at the same thing I was trying to shoot.”

After getting Oddball and spending six months in training, he had no need to stay out late shooting foxes. Soon, Marsh read an article about nearby Middle Island that gave him a bright idea.

For Middle Island was the home of a colony of penguins, once 200 strong, but their numbers had dwindled to less than 10. The reason? Foxes could swim to the island at low tide and feast upon the poor flightless birds. A university student living on Marsh’s farm at the time, David Williams, brought the issue to his attention.

“I read the article about the island,” Williams said. “And Swampy said, ‘what they need on that island is a maremma dog.'”

With the help of¬†Williams’s father, a wildlife officer with the Victoria Department of Environment and Sustainability, the pair managed to get the idea approved by the local council — a maremma sheepdog would be placed on Middle Island to protect the penguins.

Oddball was the first dog to visit the island, and he, like the dogs who followed, seemed to get a long famously with the penguins.

“A couple of penguins came up and saw the dog and just snuck back down again but then one confident one just strolled straight up and old Oddball went to give it a sneaky sniff on the backside and the penguin gave it a squawk and went for her nose,” Marsh recalled.

The island now has a pair of sister maremmas who guard the penguins for six months out of the year, and the penguin colony is now thriving, thanks to Swampy Marsh, David Williams, and an adorable dog called Oddball.DSC_0548 2