In 1999 there were 600 Little Penguins making their home on the rocky outcrop of Middle Island near Warrnambool. By 2005, only 4 were left. Some had been killed by dogs or had their burrows and eggs trampled by visitors, but most were killed by foxes.
Swampy Marsh, a local farmer, knew what Maremma dogs could do — he used them to successfully protect the 8000 hens on his free-range egg farm — and at last a desperate community was prepared to listen to him. Two of his best dogs were sent to Middle Island. The results speak for themselves. In the 2014–15 season, Little Penguin numbers had risen to approximately 130. It's hoped that in the next six years the colony will have returned to its original size.
Dianne Jackson Hill and Craig Smith have combined talents to tell this remarkable story in a format that's perfect for young readers. The reduction in penguin numbers due to dogs and foxes is sensitively handled in a way that won't traumatise the little ones, while the detailed facts and figures are confined to an information page at the back of the book. The result is a picture book that puts all the focus on the ingenious plan of Swampy Marsh, the fantastic protective instincts of Maremmas Max and Mimi, and the resilience of those cute little 'chooks in dinner suits'.
Title: Chooks in Dinner Suits: A Tale of Big Dogs and Little Penguins
Author: Diane Jackson Hill
Illustrator: Craig Smith
Publisher: Museum Victoria, $19.99 RRP
Publication Date: June 2016
For ages: 4+
Type: Picture Book