Oiled endangered Algoa Bay penguins washed, rehabilitation continues


All 92 oiled endangered African penguins that were admitted to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in St Francis Bay, have been successfully washed and rinsed, following a recent oil spill in Algoa Bay.

The oiled penguins, along with 61 penguin chicks, were rescued from St Croix Island in a collaborative rescue operation by the Marine Rangers from the Addo Elephant National Park – South African National Parks (SANParks), the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) and SANCCOB and transported to SANCCOB’s seabird centre in Cape St Francis and to the South African Marine Rehabilitation Centre (SAMREC) in Port Elizabeth.

SANCCOB’s team of staff and volunteers washed the first penguins on Sunday, 21 August, with the last bird being washed on Thursday afternoon, 25 August. The entire washing and rinsing process of each bird can take up to two hours, before the birds are placed in drying pens under infra-red heat lamps, that assist in speeding up the drying process. The washed birds will continue to be cared for by the team at its centre in Cape St Francis, until they are ready for release.

Juanita Raath, SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation Coordinator in the Eastern Cape, said, “We are very happy with the progress made so far and that all the birds are now clean. However, the rehabilitation process is far from finished, as we still need to make sure that each bird regains its natural waterproofing, picks up sufficient weight, regain its hydration and passes all our medical and veterinary checks, before being able to go back into the wild. So there is still a lot of feeding, cleaning and caring to be done. The penguin chicks will, of course, stay for a longer period as they still need to grow into juveniles that are fit and ready for life in the wild.”

The exact cause of the oil spill is still to be confirmed by authorities investigating the matter.

Currently, SANCCOB has sufficient staff and volunteers to assist in the rehabilitation of these endangered seabirds and thanks the public for generously donating towels and newspapers needed at the centre. Thanks to the public, SANCCOB has sufficient supplies of these items but encourages supporters to visit the Wish List page on their website (http://sanccob.co.za/involved/#wishlist) for additional items needed at the centre.

The African penguin is the only penguin species to naturally occur on the African continent. It was once one of South Africa’s most abundant seabirds, but has suffered a massive population decline.

In the early 20th century the total wild population was estimated at one million breeding pairs; today the total estimate is less than 25 000 breeding pairs left in South African and Namibia, with only 19 284 breeding pairs recorded in South Africa in 2015 (South African Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts).

The present population represents approximately only 2.5% of its prevalence some 80 years ago and, most worryingly of all, the population decrease is continuing. Due to the rapid decline, this indicator species, which breeds at 29 locations in South
Africa and southern Namibia, was listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2010.