Friday, 07 August 2020

WHITIANGA WEATHER

Rules permitting dogs to run off lead questioned

Attacks on birds, including the mauling of four little blue penguins at Kuaotunu and Otama beaches last summer, are prompting some conservationists to question the rules permitting dogs to run off leash in areas where native wildlife is known to exist.

Paul Kington, chairman of the Otama Beach Reserve Committee, which devotes six to eight hours a week on trapping efforts to protect the area’s endangered wildlife, revealed details of a number of reported dog attacks on the beaches when he spoke directly to the members of the Mercury Bay Community Board on Wednesday last week to appeal for help. Other species which have been attacked include oystercatchers and dotterels. Even in cases where deaths do not occur, Paul’s said the attacks frequently caused the birds to abandon their nests.

“We have 20 traps in and around the Otama dune and lagoon areas during the nesting season, there is close liaison with the Department of Conservation dotterel ranger, traps are moved to known nesting areas and baited and monitored at least twice a week,” he said. “To have all our work undone by irresponsible dog owners is not only disheartening, it’s a whole years’ work done for nothing,” he said.

Paul emphasised the group was not condemning all dog owners but rather the inadequacy of the current Thames-Coromandel District Council bylaw which allowed dogs to be off leash. The group wants the law changed to require dogs to be on a leash and under control at all times, and banned from certain areas of the beach where birds are known to nest.

Annemieke Kregting of Kuaotunu Bird Rescue shares Paul’s concerns. She said as well as little blue penguin, dotterel, oystercatchers, kiwi, little shags and many more species are losing their chicks or being chased and mauled during dog attacks or by cats roaming at night. “Every spring we try and educate the public about our wildlife and the need to keep pets under control,” she said. “Although the ‘dogs on beaches’ rules are known to most bach owners, the holiday makers do not always take the time to find out where they can walk their dog off lead, and/or are unaware of the nesting penguins in their area. This resulted in four little blue penguins being mauled to death in the 2019 summer, just on Kuaotunu and Otama beaches. And this happens every year.

Every year, from December to April, the Kuaotunu Bird Rescue Trust takes in around 25 to 30 little blue penguins. Their survival rate when fledging is about 20 percent. “The reason for admission is mostly starvation,” Annemieke said. “But, unfortunately, the time these youngsters leave the nest is also the time the Coromandel is buzzing with holidaymakers and bach owners.”

Under the TCDC Dog Control Bylaw, which was last reviewed in 2016, dogs are prohibited from most Coromandel beaches between 9:00am and 6:00pm during the peak summer season, but are permitted off leash at other times. However, it is made clear that the dogs must still be under control.

“Unleashed dogs on the beaches in the morning and evening, are causing devastation among the little blue penguis,” Annemieke said. “The biggest problem is the fact dogs were allowed on the beaches unleashed at the same time the penguins are moving between the sea and their nests, which happened at both these times of day. The law allows the dogs to be unleashed, but they still must be under control. Dog owners still need to know where their dogs are all times. This is not always clear enough and needs to be enforced.”

Heather Bruce, TCDC’s Community Manager for Mercury Bay told the Community Board meeting that the desire for better protection of native plant and wildlife came through strongly in the submissions to the Mercury Bay Community Plans, which have now been recommended to council for approval. Councillor Tony Fox said it was an issue that affected the whole district and any changes would need to apply across the board. The Dog Control Bylaw is not due for review again until 2026.

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