97-year-old comes to aid of Moeraki penguins

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  7. 97-year-old comes to aid of Moeraki penguins

While others may have been more idle than usual during the recent COVID-19 Lockdown, 97-year-old Peter Whitehead was busy in his workshop building trapboxes to help protect the local yellow-eyed penguins – and he’s still busy.

Peter Whitehead works on a trapbox. Image credit: Alison MacTavish.
Peter Whitehead works on a trapbox. Image credit: Alison MacTavish

“I’ve made about 85 to 87 so far,” he says. “I’ve got 11 ready and waiting to be collected at the moment. When I’m going full steam it takes me about a day to put together a trap.”

Peter moved to Hampden in North Otago four years ago to be closer to his daughter.

“My daughter moved to Moeraki and then she found a place for ‘Dad’, he explains. “She is now a very enthusiast member of the Penguin Rescue group based at the Moeraki Lighthouse. They rescue yellow-eyed penguins.”

The group wanted to trap predators around the areas where the penguins nest, but were having trouble getting the traps made.

“They had the trap mechanisms but not the boxes,” says Peter, “So my daughter suggested ‘Dad could do it’ and it developed from there. I made some boxes and they took them, so I made some more and they took those too. The penguin people buy the plywood and wire and the other bits and pieces come from my little workshop. I just use what I can find.”

A close up of a hoiho
Yellow eyed penguin. Image credit: Bernard Spragg (via Wikimedia Commons)

Peter can be found pottering in his workshop most days.

“All my life I’ve wanted a home workshop,” he says, “And when I moved to Hampden, my new house was the ideal place to put one up and fill it up with bits and pieces.”

At the moment he’s waiting for some more DOC 200 traps to come in.

“The traps are sent in boxes of 10,” he explains. “The lady who runs the Penguin Rescue had also bought some traps that were ineffective, so the operations manager collected them and I took them to bits and made new traps from the parts.”

The new traps have been working well, Peter has been told. They’ve caught over 30 ferrets so far as well as other predators.

“I heard from Dougal MacTavish 2 or 3 weeks ago that they’d already caught 90+ predators – they catch rats, hedgehogs, stoats and weasels. They get a lot of feral cats there too.”

Now Peter has a new home workshop project. This time its something for the penguins themselves.

“I’m currently making little holding pens for the rescue penguins while they’re moulting,” he says.