First African Penguin chicks released
By Francois Louw | Fundraising and Marketing Manager (SANCCOB)
On Thursday 8 December 2016, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) released 23 endangered African penguins at the Stony Point penguin colony in Betty’s Bay, together with Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium and CapeNature. The majority of the penguins were rescued as abandoned African penguin chicks and spent six to eight weeks undergoing intensive rehabilitation at SANCCOB’s centre in Table View, Cape Town, prior to release.
The penguins were admitted during SANCCOB’s ‘chick season’, which runs from October to January, when hundreds of endangered African penguin chicks are rescued due to abandonment by their parents. Since 1 October 2016, SANCCOB has admitted 495 abandoned African penguin chicks to its two centres in Table View (Western Cape) and Cape St Francis (Eastern Cape). Most of the birds have been admitted from Betty’s Bay (Western Cape) and St Croix Island (Eastern Cape), and this was achieved with the help of CapeNature and the Marine Rangers from the Addo Elephant National Park – South African National Parks (SANParks).
The mass abandonment of African penguin chicks occurs on an annual basis when the moulting season of adult penguins overlaps with the hatching season. Moulting takes place once a year and during this time, adult penguins replace their feathers with a brand new set of waterproof feathers. When undergoing this feather-change, they are unable to go into the cold ocean to hunt for fish, so they make sure that they have enough fat reserves to sustain themselves for the three to four week period. Every year, however, a significant number of moulting parents still have chicks in their nests that they are unable to care for as they are unable to hunt for fish. As a result, these chicks face starvation unless SANCCOB and its partners rescue them and rehabilitate them until they are fit young juveniles who are able to fend for themselves.
During this peak season, SANCCOB welcomes experienced staff from international zoos and aquaria who assist with the rehabilitation of these endangered African penguin chicks. The additional support is critical to the success of SANCCOB’s rehabilitation intervention. Francois Louw, SANCCOB’s Fundraising and Marketing Manager, added,”Looking after these abandoned penguin chicks is no easy task and takes a huge amount of dedication and hard work to make sure that each chick receives the best care possible. As a non-profit organisation, SANCCOB is extremely grateful for the assistance that we receive from our zoo and aquaria partners from across the world. These institutions play a critical role in supporting SANCCOB’s operations, deploying staff during critical periods and creating valuable international awareness about the plight of the endangered African penguin.”
Kirsten Hannigan, Senior Trainer of Mammals and Birds at Georgia Aquarium (United States of America), was one of the team who participated in the penguin release at Stony Point. She added, “Having the opportunity to assist in the release of 23 African penguins yesterday was the experience of a lifetime. I have dedicated my career to caring for African penguins and educating people in the importance of conserving this amazing species. Working for Georgia Aquarium gives me the opportunity to work with SANCCOB and experience first-hand the incredible work they do to save this species.”
In partnership with The Blue Fund (Wildlands and Grindrod Bank), SANCCOB’s Adopt a Chick campaign 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 the adopted chick and a thank you letter on its behalf. 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 this much-needed contribution to SANCCOB’s vital conservation efforts. If you would like to contribute to this rescue effort and play your part in saving the endangered African penguin, adoptions may be made online at https://sanccob.co.za/adopt/.
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.
View the Facebook live stream of the release: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgiaAquarium/videos/10154390790098124/
Francois Louw | Fundraising and Marketing Manager (SANCCOB)