First abandoned penguin chicks admitted to SANCCOB

By Francois Louw, Fundraising & Marketing Manager (SANCCOB)

The first abandoned African penguin chicks have been admitted to SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) after being rescued by CapeNature from the Stony Point colony in Betty’s Bay (Cape Town, South Africa). Currently, 151 chicks are in SANCCOB’s care, with many being admitted as young as five days old after being abandoned by their parents.

The mass abandonment of penguin chicks in the colonies is an annual occurrence and takes place between October and January, when adults go into moult to replace their worn-out feathers with brand new, waterproof feathers. Before moulting, penguins will build up their fat reserves to prepare for the three to four week feather-change process when they are confined to land and unable to enter the ocean to hunt for fish. As a result, moulting parents are unable to care for their young, who are then classified as abandoned. These chicks face starvation unless conservation organisations like SANCCOB and its partners, CapeNature, SANParks (Table Mountain National Park and the Marine Rangers section of the Addo Elephant National Park) and Robben Island Museum intervene.

Chicks are rescued by the colony managers and admitted in large groups to SANCCOB’s centres in Cape Town (Western Cape) and Cape St Francis (Eastern Cape). The rehabilitation of a penguin chick can take anything from six weeks to three months, depending on their size and condition.

Nicky Stander, SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation Manager, noted that, “The chicks admitted this year are considerably younger than chicks admitted in previous years. Most of the chicks are between five days and two weeks old. This means that their rehabilitation period will be much more extensive and the costs to care for them will increase as a result. The team of staff and volunteers are working round-the-clock to ensure that each chick gets the best possible care.”

Once they are at a fledging age, of the correct weight, healthy and their feathers are waterproof, they will receive final approval from SANCCOB’s veterinary team and will be released back into an established colony like Boulders Beach, Robben Island, Stony Point, Bird and St Croix islands. 

Due to the rapid decline in population numbers, the African penguin was reclassified as endangered in 2010 and today, it is estimated that less than 2% (25 000 breeding pairs) of the species remain in the wild. The survival of individual penguins is critical if South Africa is to retain the wild population of one of its most charismatic wildlife species.

Through the Chick Bolstering Project (CBP), SANCCOB and its project partners are contributing to the wild African penguin population by rescuing abandoned eggs and chicks and releasing them back into the wild after being successfully hand-reared at its seabird centres. Since the project’s inception in 2006, SANCCOB and its partners have successfully hand-reared and released more than 4 000 chicks.

Ongoing monitoring and research has proved that their survival rate is comparable to that of naturally reared birds and consequently, this is one of the most important interventions to conserve the dwindling African penguin population. However, the success of this important project is dependent upon meeting essential costs including fish, medicine, veterinary supplies, and electricity for the incubators, staff training and equipment.

In partnership with SANCCOB’s Adopt a Chick campaign, The Blue Fund, encourages the public to help rescue and rehabilitate these abandoned chicks by adopting and naming a penguin chick from SANCCOB. Adoption costs are R600 (for an email pack) or R700 (for a posted pack) and each pack includes a certificate of adoption, a photograph of their chick and a thank you letter on behalf of their adopted chick. The campaign runs from November to December and during this time, the Blue Fund will match any contributions made by the public to the campaign, effectively doubling the funds received and will therefore double SANCCOB’s vital conservation efforts. Adoptions can be made online here if you would like to contribute to this rescue effort and play your part in saving the endangered African penguin.