A teenager from New Zealand cares for endangered sea lions

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) – As a teenager, 17-year-old Hannah Yeardley, from Dunedin, southern New Zealand, takes care of sea lions, not human babies, in her spare time.

During school weekends and holidays, Yeardley wanders during the breeding season between December and February in Long Sandy White Beach, where newborn puppies are most at risk, to check the safety of families of sea lions living in the area. , as a volunteer with the New Zealand Sea Lion Trust, which deals with the protection of endangered species.

Hannah Yeardley, plain textCredit: Caitlin McGee / CNN

Her favorite sea lion is Zoe. She “turned 17” in March, Yeardley told CNN, noting that it was “fantastic to see her again every year, go through her birth and watch her give birth.”

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: PAUL ELLIS / AFP via Getty Images

It has been a fruitful year for the Otago Peninsula sea lions, which connect the hinterland with the Dunedin suburbs and thence into the Pacific Ocean and are home to the largest number of sea lions on the New Zealand continent, according to the Department of the State. of Conservation. And 21 cubs were born, making it the most successful breeding season for an endangered species in nearly 200 years.

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: Kylie Evans

Sea lions flourished along the coast of New Zealand until commercial hunting began in the early nineteenth century, which continued until the mid-twentieth century, which almost caused the extinction of these animals. Natives living hundreds of miles south on sub-Antarctic islands such as Auckland and Campbell Island have survived, where most sea lion breeding still occurs today.

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: Janet Ledingham / Dunedin

Then, in the early 1990s, a single female returned to the mainland, where a puppy was born on St Clair beach. She became known as “Mom” and a statue of her now stands proudly in the middle of a courtyard overlooking the beach.

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: John Burke

“This female was responsible for the return of a group of sea lions to Otago,” said Jim Fife, Coastal Biodiversity Conservation Officer at the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Fortunately, my mom’s puppies were female, which was a good start for this community, Fife said. He explained, “By 2000, we will have one or three puppies, to increase the number to six to eight puppies by 2010 and to reach the number of puppies born in recent years between 18 and 20 puppies. of sea lions. “

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: Ben Foley / CNN

But sea lions have turned into a completely different habitat than they were 200 years ago. Roads, cars, motorcycles, people, dogs and all sorts of potential hazards are plentiful in the area. This poses great challenges to maintaining the health and happiness of this species.

Sea lions have a bad smell

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: John Burke

Eager to protect pups from adult male sea lions weighing up to 450 kilograms, which can trample puppies in search of a mate, mothers often seek shelter inside to feed their pups, but this exposes them to human threats.

Fife said he found them nesting in backyards, kennels, outbuildings and the local golf course, sometimes causing problems with human neighbors. He remembered when she slept under a house for about three months, until its owners got upset with her because “the house smelled bad”.

He added that “the night owls of sea lions, who have to check on their young at two in the morning, and the sounds they make, make them anxious.”

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: John Burke

But despite all their bad habits, sea lions face a deadly danger. This year, a three-month-old sea lion was hit and killed by a vehicle on the Otago Peninsula road, and the last tracks of motorcycles were spotted near a well-known “nursery” area where sea lions and their mothers were housed. new.

In New Zealand, endangered sea lions have
Credit: John Burke

The New Zealand Sea Lions Conservation Department and Trust, along with a group of “nannies” like Yeardley, are trying to manage these threats. Organizations track down females and their pups, enclose areas where they can nest, put up signs warning passers-by, and tell them to keep all dogs in front. And if the sea lions choose to nest in an open area, the Five and his team will create a simple shelter to help protect the young. They even closed a road in Dunedin last year, for a month, to keep the sea lion beds safe.

“The seasonal breeding cycle is a delicate phase for sea lions,” Fyfe said, adding that “what we ask of humans is to be patient, because this is not permanent.”

But as the number of sea lions continues to grow, this personal service may become less applicable. Instead, Fyfe hopes the technology will provide a solution. He was involved in a research project published last year that uses algorithm-based models and GIS maps to identify critical habitats and can help guards prioritize protection areas.

“In fact it will not bite you.”

Educating people on how to respond to sea lions is one of the simplest solutions to protect them from human threats.

Fife advised that “when you get too close to sea lions during the breeding season, sea lions can attack people who tend to flee.” He explained, “Running is the wrong thing to do because it will not actually bite you, but in 99% of cases it will stop and smell you. So just try to stay calm and get out of the place. . “

Fortunately, Fife concluded, raising awareness and interest in the animal is not difficult, stressing that it is “the best marketing tool for them, because they are generally very cute animals”.

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