Precious Species - Hoiho/ Yellow-Eyed Penguins

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Precious Species

Our series, #PreciousSpecies is to bring about awareness on the various wildlife species native to Aotearoa. #PreciousSpecies will talk about one plant/animal species at a time and give you more insight into their being 💫



              His pace was as fast as a cheetah! He was gasping for breath as he raced, dodged, moved swiftly. He could sense the object getting closer as he swam across the sea floor and suddenly, there was a thud!! He could see the water around him had turned red while the excruciating pain in his left leg was now leading to dizziness. He didn’t care, he had to move as fast as he could to save his life. Papa the yellow-eyed penguin, finally made it to the seashore and collapsed but survived! Now we know why they are called the big divers as their scientific name goes ‘Megadyptes antipodes’ which means big diver from the southern lands.

Image Credit: Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust

              The Yellow-eyed penguins also known as the Hoiho (in Maori) are native to New Zealand and are known as the world’s rarest penguins. They dwell along the Southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Stewart Island, Auckland Islands and Campbell Islands. Their population is counted in pairs, and it’s estimated to be around 265 breeding pairs in 2019 compared to 741 pairs in 1999 leading to a 65% decrease in their numbers.  There are only about 4000-5000 mature individuals as of 2019. They were classified as nationally endangered and one of the most endangered penguin species globally.

Hoiho’s are large, timid, robust birds weighing about 4-5kgs during the breeding and winter seasons. During the moulting season (shed their feathers), their weight goes up to 8.5 kgs. Their nesting habitat is usually solitary and isolated from the rest. They aren’t the typical colonies we observe from the other penguin species (Darby).


Image Credit: @jolyonbird

Mustelid (stoats, ferrets, and weasels) and feral cats are a major threat to this species. Before these predators were introduced in New Zealand, the yellow-eyed penguins would nest in cool forests. However, these forests were cut down to make farming lands which led to nesting without shelter. Habitat destruction caused by these predators led to a massive loss in their population. Possums are also destroying the growth tip of trees which were originally their nesting sites. Other threats to the survival of these species include shortage of food (marine) supply due to warmer temperatures, diseases, human interference, and dogs.

            There have been huge efforts made by DoC together with Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu, The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust/Te Tautiaki Hoiho, and Fisheries New Zealand/Tini a Tangaroa to protect and restore the Hoiho’s. Other groups such as The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, the Wildlife Hospital Dunedin, Penguin Rescue, Penguin Place and more, are also involved in the conservation of this species. Here's an interesting read on their 5-year strategy and Hoiho conservation goals.

Image Credit: @animal.ethics


We can all contribute our bit to saving these species:

  • Human interference with their habitat causes disturbance to their nesting sites and moulting routines. Special care has been taken lately to reduce human noise around these areas. So, if we do visit them, we must be careful
  • Avoiding dogs and cats around their nesting sites
  • Contributing our efforts to stoats and other predator control activities
  • Connovation has been working together with the DoC on Stoat Control projects

Our effort in any bit can save our precious species from extinction.


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