In 2002, the Department of Conservation established the Conservation Dog Programme which formally integrated the use of dogs in their efforts to conserve New Zealand’s native wildlife.

Dogs have since been used with great effect in the detection of protected species and for controlling introduced predators.

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In 2015, KORI member Alastair began training a young Hungarian Vizsla, named Mena, to become a Conservation Dog and assist in locating Little Blue Penguins in the Kaikōura area.

By April 2016, Mena had gained full certification, demonstrating a high level of obedience and effectiveness in safely locating penguins and their breeding sites.

She is now a vital part of our Kaikōura penguin research programme, and she has also been used by other NGOs and local governments around New Zealand.


Alastair and Mena work together as a team to locate individual penguins, nests, and roosting/moulting sites. Mena is in close contact with Alastair and is under voice command, though a long lead may be used in areas of vehicle traffic or steep or unstable terrain.

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As part of the regulations of the Conservation Dog Programme, when Mena is working around penguins she wears a high-visibility Conservation Dog vest and muzzle.

Alastair and Mena systematically work the area that has been designated for survey, and Mena detects the presence of penguins by scent and will indicate that detection in various ways. She will either show interest, point, sit, or a combination of all the indications. These are passive indications and do not disturb the site or the penguins.

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Alastair interprets these indications by closely observing and communicating with the dog. Some indications are subtle and only Alastair, with his experience working with the detection dog, is able to read them effectively.

When Mena positively indicates on a spot it can have a GPS point taken, be flagged with tape, photographed, and marked on a map of the area.

K.O.R.I. Institute aims to increase the awareness of the benefits of penguin detection dogs in New Zealand to further enable the efforts of the Department of Conservation, local governments, and NGOs in New Zealand.