This Week In Zoology: Speaking of Maremmani

In my previous post I mentioned maremmani, or Maremma sheepdogs, an Italian breed of white sheepdog which may have been used as far back as in Roman times. They are fiercely protective, and are used to guard ranging livestock from pretty much any kind of predator which threatens them. They are not particularly aggressive, in that their instinct is not to immediately attack anyone who ventures into their territory, but they will engage in aggressive combat with a predator, even one larger than themselves, if that predator does not back off.

While they are classically used to protect goats and sheep, and are raised in the flock as puppies to strengthen their bond, in recent decades they have also been used to protect an ever expanding range of species. The cuddliest of which is, in my opinion, the little penguin of Middle Island off the coast of Australia.



Long story short: the little penguin breeds on Middle Island, but they were almost completely wiped out by an invasive species of fox. In order to save them from extinction, someone had the brilliant idea to train up two Maremma sheepdogs to protect the little feathery cuties while they visited the shores of Middle Island.

To do this, they trained the dogs to protect chickens, and when the breeding season comes along, they load them onto a little boat and bring them to Middle Island. The dogs, associating one little feathery creature with another, guard them from predators while they do their business. In the past 10 years, they have managed to raise their numbers from 10 to almost 200.

This was an ingenious idea, not least because it seems to be working very well! So, let’s all spare a minute to thank the maremmano, for assuring that these little guys still waddle the earth and swim the oceans.



  1. Rob Grigjanis says

    A lot like Anatolian Shepherds, but the Anatolians seem to favour preemptive strikes against predators.

    These dogs like to roam, as they were bred to travel with their herd and to leave the herd to go hunt for predators before the predators could attack the flock.

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