Abandoned penguin chicks admitted to SANCCOB
By Francois Louw
The adult African penguin moults annually to replace its rickety feathers with a new coat of waterproof feathers, which are crucially needed to regulate its body temperature when diving into the cold ocean for fishing. Prior to moulting, it prepares its body by fattening itself for a period of fast, where it has to remain on land for three to four weeks and wait for its new waterproof feathers to grow. In this moulting phase, the adults are unable to forage to feed their little chicks that have yet to fledge to fend for themselves. The chicks then become abandoned and face starvation unless rescued by SANCCOB and its conservation partners intervene.
CapeNature has rescued 230 chicks off the Stony Point colony in Betty’s bay (Cape Town, South Africa) so far, this moulting season. The young, some as little as five days old, have been admitted to SANCCOB for further nurturing. The estimated time frame for rehabilitation of a single chick range between eight weeks to three months, depending on the age admitted and health 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”.
Chicks are rescued by colony managers situated in and around Cape Town in large groups and are rehabilitated at SANCCOB’s centres in Cape Town (Western Cape) and Cape St Francis (Eastern Cape). With the support of conservation organisations such as CapeNature, SANParks (Table Mountain National Park and the Marine Rangers section of the Addo Elephant National Park) and Robben Island Museum, these little guys have a chance at survival.
Once they reach fledgling age, at the correct weight, have grown waterproof feathers and 100% healthy, they are released back into their natural habitat. The release is done at established colonies such as Boulders Beach, Robben Island, Stony Point, Bird and St Croix islands.
It is estimated that only 2% (25 000 breeding pairs) of the African penguin remain in the wild. With this rapid decline in population numbers, the African penguin is officially classified as an endangered species. SANCCOB, in collaboration with its partners, are rearing abandoned eggs and chicks through the Chick Bolstering Project (CBP). A project proudly run at SANCCOB that helped to hand-rear and release more than 4000 chicks since its inception in 2006.
Extensive research of the Chick Bolstering Project shows the survival rate of the rescued chicks is comparable to that of chicks reared in their natural habitat. This is one of the most vital interventions to conserve the dwindling African penguin population. The success of this project, however, is heavily reliant on donations. Essentials such as fish, medicine, veterinary supplies, incubator maintenance, staff training and equipment are needed to give each chick the best chance of survival.
In partnership with The Blue Fund, 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 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 at https://sanccob.co.za/adopt/ if you would like to contribute to this rescue effort and play your part in saving the endangered African penguin.