Devin the blue eyed penguin
He was on the brink of celebrity, of being an animal A-lister - a poster-boy for his kind.
But sadly Devin’s been robbed of that. And we have been robbed of him. He has been taken, gone, and penguin-dom has lost a “beautiful personality”.
Julia Graham is angry and sad at the same time.
“It’s one thing to euthanise an animal for genuine natural causes,” says the Western Bay Wildlife Trust officer, “but when you know it’s completely avoidable, it hurts. It’s terrible.”
That’s because Julia Graham and a vet had to take the decision to put Devin down – Devin the little blue-eyed penguin that had more than likely been savaged by a dog on Papamoa Beach. He had a flipper wrenched from his body and was missing one and a half toes.
The passionate conservationist has her dander up. “You have a beautiful breeding penguin, a fine, healthy strong penguin who knows how to hunt, knows how to do stuff, and would have lived a long, healthy and productive life.
“And it hurts to know that something as simple as keeping your dog on a lead, or keeping a closer eye on your dog, could potentially have saved this bird.”
It’s a tired message but one that seems not to be getting through. “Some dog owners just don’t care. We come across them all the time.”
And this despite all the trust’s advertising, education and promotion. “There are some beautiful dog owners who do care, but there are some who just don’t.”
Devin wallowed his way into our hearts on the eve of the big storm last week. “He was trying to get back out to sea, but the waves were so big and strong, they just kept dumping him back onshore,” says Joanne Rostron.
She and her family were wandering along Papamoa East Beach when daughter Megan spotted Devin - Devin with the “i” because it seemed like a good name. Joanne’s son Nathan chose it and it was androgynous.
Thirteen-year-old Nathan and 15-year-old sister Megan climbed into the surf to rescue Devin, and when they noticed he had a flipper missing they took him home wrapped in a t-shirt. “He seemed quite spritely, not frightened, and he was looking around.” Joanne then raised the penguin alarm and the Wildlife Trust responded.
“Possibly a shark, possibly a propeller, more than likely a dog,” says Julia Graham.
Devin was coming out of moult. It’s a tough time for a little blue. They’re virtually land bound for two or three weeks because they don’t have the insulation of their feathers to stay at sea and feed.
“For a penguin to come out of moult in such great condition made him pretty much an Olympian penguin,” says Julia. Above all, he was a nice bird. “Good natured, placid and nice. Other penguins want to rip your face off, but not this one – he was wonderful and friendly.” And those personality traits could have set Devin up as something quite, quite special.
“We thought he would be a wonderful advocate for penguins.” Julia’s talking about a plan to make Devin a poster boy for controlling dogs on the beach, making people aware that little blues will rock up on our shores and they can’t fly away when danger approaches.
Like Sparky and Snoopy, the one legged Kiwis, who became flightless apteryx ambassadors travelling schools and public forums promoting wildlife conservation and the case against “gin traps.”
Wellington Zoo was sorted as a potential new home for Devin - a one-flippered penguin which couldn’t go back to sea, which couldn’t swim properly, which couldn’t feed and fend for itself. But briefly, he was destined for the bright lights.
He didn’t quite make it. And the message is he died needlessly. Devin developed an infection and his condition deteriorated rapidly. “It’s deeply disturbing to put down an animal that is healthy in all respects other than it has got just one flipper,” says Julia.
“A dog, even if it’s a nice dog, will walk up and sniff a penguin. The penguin will bite its face and then the dog’s instinct is to defend itself. And as we have discovered again and again, the consequences can be quite sad.”
“Sad” says the beach walker Joanne Rostron who gave Devin a chance. “So, so sad.” Devin was with us briefly. Hopefully his message lives on.