Endangered penguins in onesies and survival of the best dressed

There's a new dress code for sick and injured endangered penguins at a New Zealand wildlife hospital - the latest in baby onesies.

Veterinary staff caring for some of the world's most endangered penguins have come up with a simple but novel solution to aid the recovery of their patients by dressing them in the practical all-in-one baby garment known as a onesie.

The onesie, it seems, is a good way to prevent the penguin patients from scratching or pecking at their wounds, and thereby allowing new feathers the chance to grow.

The innovative idea came about when wildlife hospital staff were faced with treating a juvenile yellow-eyed penguin with substantial feather damage.

“Just like any toddler the little one insisted on picking at his wounds, not allowing new feathers to grow,” said Dunedin Wildlife Hospital Trust chairman, Steve Walker.

The baby onesies provided the perfect solution preventing the penguin from damaging itself. Walker says the penguin fashionista in question, who is known as Plucky, is now convalescing at Penguin Place wildlife centre where he is something of a sensation with visitors lucky enough to catch a glimpse.

“It seems that babies of all species need bespoke wardrobe items and this little guy is now on the mend thanks to this snappy fashion choice.”

Inspired by the success of the idea, Dunedin Wildlife Hospital has put out a call to baby clothing manufacturers with the idea of creating specially designed penguin-themed onsies.

Dunedin is the 'wildlife capital of New Zealand', with many rare and endangered species inhabiting the surrounding area. Before the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital opened in early 2018, injured yellow-eyed penguins were flown to the North Island and only had a 40-50% chance of survival. That survival rate has now risen to nearly 88%.

The charity is hoping that someone will take them up on the offer and donate a percentage of sales to the hospital’s operation, in addition to raising awareness of New Zealand’s unique but critically endangered wildlife.

The penguins, aptly named because of their yellow eyes, breed on the east coast of New Zealand. On the Otago Peninsula, just 10 minutes’ drive from Dunedin city centre, numbers have dropped by 76 per cent since the mid-1990s and face possible local extinction in the next 20 to 40 years. Ongoing conservation and protection of the species is an integral part of their survival, and the Dunedin Wildlife Hospital plays a pivotal role in this.

Penguin Place is one of the Otago Peninsula's best loved wildlife experiences where visitors can view penguins and other wildlife at close quarters. Wildlife lovers exploring Dunedin have a range of opportunities to see wildlife - both yellow-eyed and korora ittle blue penguins, sea lions and fur seals, albatross and seabirds - on one of several wildlife tours on land and sea, including Penguin Place and the Royal Albatross Centre which is the world’s only mainland breeding colony of the northern royal albatross.