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A look back at the History of the Penguin Foundation

Radio Announcer, Harvey Deegan, from the ‘Remember When Program’ on Radio 6PR Perth recently heard about the Penguin Foundation Knits for Nature jumper program - and he was intrigued. Listen to the show to learn the history of the jumpers.

Listen to Harvey Deegan's informative interview with Penguin Foundation Board Member and former Research Director at Phillip Island Nature Parks, Dr Peter Dann. Peter has published over 200 papers and book chapters and edited a book on penguin ecology and management – so to say he is a penguin expert, might just be an understatement!


History of the Penguin Foundation

Established in 2006, the Penguin Foundation is dedicated to protecting the Little Penguins of Phillip Island (Millowl). Phillip Island is home to approximately 40,000 Little Penguins. Habitat loss, climate change, man-made disasters (such as oil spills) and the effects of foxes, feral cats and other pests can have a devastating effect on Little Penguin survival. The Penguin Foundation is a non-profit organisation tasked with raising funds for the protection of penguins, habitat restoration and preservation and other threatened wildlife species. Through efforts in research, conservation and education, the Foundation raises funds to make a positive impact on the ecosystem and to protect wildlife now and into the future.

Prior to 2005, there had been discussions by the Phillip Island Nature Parks Leadership Team that a Foundation should be established. Thanks to the perseverance of this cohesive team, the Penguin Foundation became a reality. In those early days, no one had envisioned that the Penguin Foundation would become such a widely known and respected environmental organisation.  

While funding is always highly sought after and not always easy to secure, the Foundation has leveraged off historical performance and expansion into new areas and grants and corporate partnerships. Alongside major partnerships, individual donors provide invaluable support by adopting Little Penguins and other local species to ensure they thrive.

Since its inception, the Foundation has funded 65 projects and raised over $2.5 million dollars. A major milestone is ahead in just three years, with the Penguin Foundation twenty year anniversary to be celebrated.  

The Penguin Foundation received world-wide notoriety when its Knits for Nature program was launched.

About Knits for Nature

Knits for Nature began after a number of oil spills occurred near Phillip Island in the late 1990s. This vital program supports Little Penguin conservation on Phillip Island in a number of ways.

Our Knits for Nature penguin jumper program ran for almost twenty years. Over this time, generous knitters from across the globe have sent over 180,000 Little Penguin rehabilitation jumpers - and these jumpers are not just a fashion statement.

When Little Penguins become oiled, they will try to preen and clean the toxic oil from their feathers, and ingesting it can kill them. It also damages their delicate feathers, which exposes their skin to extreme temperatures and they are left cold, heavy and unable to swim or hunt for food.

Little Penguin rehabilitation jumpers play an important role in saving sick or injured penguins. When oiled penguins are rescued and admitted to the  Phillip Island Wildlife Clinic, knitted jumpers are temporarily placed on the penguins, acting as a barrier to prevent them from reaching their oily feathers with their beaks, before rescue staff are able to wash their bodies clean.

The majority of donated jumpers were suitable for Little Penguin rehabilitation, and we are fortunate to have many thousands of jumpers stored in our clinic and ready to use in the event of an oil spill. Due to its overwhelming popularity, the Knits for Nature program is now closed as the rehabilitation clinic no longer requires any new jumpers at this stage. 

Despite the very best efforts of knitters, some donated jumpers were too big or small or came adorned with embellishments which would pose a risk to Little Penguins. These penguin jumpers are now sold on soft penguin toys to raise funds for the Penguin Foundation and wildlife conservation on Phillip Island. Since 2012, the sale of these jumpers has raised over $300,000. Excess jumpers and those unsuitable for rehabilitation purposes are used as educational tools to teach students and the public about the devastating effects marine and coastal pollution has on wildlife and the environment and additional jumpers are sent on to other wildlife organisations if needed.

The Penguin Foundation and the conservation team at Phillip Island Nature Parks extend sincere thanks to knitters from all around the world for their incredible support, both in time and the cost involved with materials and postage.

If you would like to support the Little Penguins, you may like to Adopt a Penguin or make a donation via the website: 

Did you know?

438 Little Penguins were affected by the last major oil spill near Phillip Island in 2001. Of those, 96% were successfully saved with the help of penguin jumpers, rehabilitated at the Wildlife Clinic and released back into the wild.

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