A deadly disease is threatening to decimate the Yellow-Eyed Penguin population on New Zealand's southern coastlines, with those affected boasting only a 10% survival rate.
Avian Diptheria is having a devastating impact on the endangered birds from Oamaru all the way south to Codfish Island off the coast of Invercargill.
The disease causes ulcers and lesions inside chicks' mouths making it difficult for them to eat and breathe. 90% of chicks affected will die from the disease.
At this stage a cause and a cure is unknown, prompting an inter-agency approach from the Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries, Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust, as well as help from Otago and Massey universities.
"They're very young, they're very delicate and they need to be able to feed really well to put on the massive weight gains so that they're actually ready to fledge come the summer," DOC Vet Kate McInnes told ONE News of the dangers for the vulnerable chicks.
"If we can find one particular bug that's the nasty bug then maybe we can target that with a silver bullet."
The Ministry for Primary Industries have taken the unusual step of putting personnel on the ground to help the diagnostic process with MPI Veterinary Pathologist and Incursion Investigator Kelly Buckle warning of the potential flow on effects the disease could have.
"It's within reason to assume that any disease that is affecting penguins could potentially affect poultry," Ms Buckle told ONE News.
"This disease is so devastating to Yellow-Eyed Penguins that you'd hate to think what would happen if it got into chickens for instance."
Making matters worse, Yellow-Eyed Penguins' breeding sites are at half the number of a good year, a continuation of a concerning three-year trend of low statistics for the iconic birds.