Tula the maremma sheepdog who protected the penguins of Middle Island – the job made famous by the movie Oddball – has died at the age of 13.
The sad news came five months after the death of Tula’s sister, Eudy, who also protected the little penguin colony on Middle Island, just off the coast of Warrnambool in Victoria.
The sisters were the first dogs specially trained to protect the little penguins from foxes as part of the Middle Island Penguin Project.
The project was the inspiration for the 2015 film Oddball, starring Shane Jacobson.
Oddball, who died in 2017 at the age of 15, was the penguin colony’s first protector. She spent just two weeks on the island in 2006, but her stay was so successful it led to the launch of the permanent protection project.
Tula spent eight seasons as the lead guardian* on Middle Island before retiring in 2019.
Middle Island Penguin Project dog handler Dr Trish Corbett said Tula would be greatly missed.
“Tula was the lead guardian. She was always the first to jump up and bark if there was a threat,” Dr Corbett said.
“Middle Island was her domain*. She had such a strong instinct* and loved protecting her island.”
Dr Corbett said Tula remained active in retirement and, with her sister, played an important role in training the next generation of guardian dogs.
“Even after she retired to the farm she continued to protect the chickens and train the younger dogs. You couldn’t tell her not to work. She lived for it,” Dr Corbett said.
Warrnambool Mayor Richard Ziegeler paid tribute to Tula.
“With the sad passing of Tula, it’s the end of an era for one of the world’s most innovative* conservation projects,” Cr Ziegeler said.
“The legacy* that Tula and her sister Eudy have created will live on in the work undertaken by the next generation of maremma guardian dogs and the dedicated people who make the project possible.”
Tula’s ashes will be scattered on Middle Island, along with Eudy’s.
The Middle Island Penguin Project began in 2006 after fox predation* resulted in a dramatic decline in the island’s penguin population.
A Deakin University study of the little penguin breeding season in 1999-2000 found 292 occupied burrows with 502 penguins coming ashore during a one-hour period in January 2000.
But by 2005 there were fewer than 10 penguins on the island.
Local chicken farmer Swampy Marsh suggested maremma sheepdogs could be used to protect the penguins after he had successfully used them to guard his chickens. The Middle Island Penguin Project has operated ever since.
- guardian: someone who protects or defends something
- domain: an area someone controls
- instinct: a way of behaving, thinking or feeling that is natural, not learned
- innovative: using new ideas or methods
- legacy: a gift or benefit left by someone when they die
- predation: the action of one animal killing another for food
- Which island’s penguin colony do the maremma dogs protect?
- When did Tula retire?
- How many seasons did she work on the island protecting the penguins?
- When was the protection project introduced?
- How many penguins where on the island by 2005?
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1. Describing Tula
Set a timer for 5 minutes. Brainstorm as many adjectives as you can in that time that could be used to describe Tula the maremma. When the timer goes off, compare your adjectives with a classmate. Help each other check that all of your words are adjectives. Add any unique adjectives that your partner had but you didn’t to your list.
Time: allow 10 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Use the adjectives you brainstormed to assist you to write an “Ode to Tula” poem.
Time: allow 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter. How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).
Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?