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Thursday, 14 January 2010

Tourists!

We have a delightful colony of Little Blue Penguins in our town. They are carefully protected and monitored, have a safe, fenced nesting area - dogs and cats can wreak havoc - and are a tourist attraction.

The main colony has a pleasant tourist area where people may, from a safe distance, watch the penguins arrive at dusk and cross the beach to their nests. There is an information centre, a spy hut where one can view what's happening in several nests, a delightful hot drinks kiosk and shop, an intelligent commentary as the penguins timidly make their way from the sea to their nests under the cliffs, and opportunities for photographs in a lighted area, camera flashes can damage penguins' eyes. Alas, like most tourist things it is expensive to visit. However the penguins are prospering and have spread out along the little peninsular so that there are several other nesting groups close by, one under the old railway sheds, another in the rock garden at the Port Side restaurant and a suicidal group who have to cross the road to reach their nests under a collection of old customs sheds.

The problem is that tourists who don't want to pay the fee to enter the official tourist site have heard via the internet that you can see and photograph the Little Blues just outside the official tourist site. Chaos now reigns. Despite the notices to keep a 10 metre distance, not to crowd, herd or frighten the penguins back into the sea, and one poor volunteer trying to keep people from chasing the birds and taking pictures with flashes right in the birds' faces this is happening.

What ails people that they must chase these little birds and flash their mobile ‘phone cameras in their eyes? No sooner has the volunteer rushed off to another group harassing the penguins than the first misbehaving group of wretched tourists are back blocking the birds from their nests, herding them into corners to take flashlight photos. No amount of sweet reason and sensible explanation works on these people. They want their photograph for their website and to hell with starving chicks and blinded parents.

The problem is growing each week. When tourists are stupid enough to go and poke sunbathing sealions and throw stones at basking fur seals, chase rare and protected Yellow Eyed Penguins and hound Little Blue Penguins one has to ask why New Zealand encourages overseas tourists. Maybe it’s time to stop assuming that anyone has the right to come to New Zealand as a tourist and start issuing permits to people who want to share our wildlife rarities with respect.