Nimble-fingered Alfie Date — who has been knitting for over 80 years – began making the brightly-coloured miniature clothing for sick birds cared for by Phillip Island’s Penguin Foundation after an oil spill in 2013.
The scaled-down marine knitwear is used at the Foundation’s wildlife clinic to stop slicked-up penguins from swallowing more toxic oil as they attempt to clean the poisonous sludge from their clumped-up feathers. Hundreds of cute Little Penguins have been saved before being released back into the wild – including more than 400 back in 2001.
Alfie was asked to put his skills to work the day he arrived at his care home in Umina, on the Central Coast of New South Wales.
“I think I’d been in here about 12 hours, might have been 13. The two girls (nurses) come in to me and say: “We believe you can knit,'” he told 9Stories.
“The girls who used to work for me – they’ll tell you I’m a sucker. I can’t say no,” he added. “It’s a good way of getting along in life. You make friends all the time but you don’t make a fool of yourself either.”
Little Penguins are only found in New Zealand and southern Australia, and a 32,000-strong colony lives on Phillip Island, which lies around 87 miles south-east of Melbourne.
The Foundation dubbed Alfie their “most senior penguin jumper”, but hadn’t realised he was also Australia’s most senior citizen. “It’s amazing and we feel quite privileged to have him dedicating his time and effort to the Penguin Foundation,” said spokesperson Danene Jones.
An appeal for knitwear to help koalas whose paws were burnt in the recent Australian bush fires met with such a massive public response that wildlife groups had to ask people to stop sending gear in. And, for now it’s a similar story on the penguin suit front. “At this time we have enough jumpers and do not require anymore,” says the Penguin Foundation.