Penguin chicks get a second chance

JUNE 10, 2016

Since April, 32 endangered African penguins that were admitted as weak chicks have been successfully released backed into the wild by SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) and the Marine Section Rangers of the Addo Elephant National Park (SANParks).

A total of 79 penguin chicks were found in a very weak, emaciated state on St. Croix Island and Bird Island in Algoa Bay, and were rescued by SANParks and, subsequently, admitted to SANCCOB. It is believed that the adult penguins nesting on the island are struggling to find sufficient fish and are, as a result, unable to feed their young.

On Monday, a group of 16 were released into the St. Croix colony after spending nearly eight weeks at SANCCOB’s seabird centre in Cape St. Francis. Small chicks are fed six times a day with a special formula made up of blended fish, water and a variety of vitamins to boost their immune system.

As they grow, they receive small fillets of fish and, eventually, whole fish, as they go through the six-to-eight week rehabilitation process. These penguins are not released until SANCCOB’s rehabilitation staff have determined that their feathers are waterproof, their bloods tests do not show any signs of infection and that they weigh between 2.6 to 2.7 Kg. Each penguin also receives a special transponder micro-chip that allows conservation staff and researchers to effectively monitor the birds after being released.

“The continued lack of prey for penguins in Algoa Bay is of concern to SANParks and researchers, but hopefully with the arrival of small shoals of sardines in the bay the situation will improve,” says SANParks National Marine Co-ordinator, Dr Ane Oosthuizen.

Algoa Bay is home to approximately 60% of South Africa’s endangered African penguin population.

The diminishing supply of fish stocks remains one of the major threats to the survival of the species. Once considered to be one of South Africa’s most iconic species, the African penguin was classified as endangered in 2010. With an estimated 25 000 breeding pairs left in the wild, the population is at approximately 2.5% of the estimated figure of one million breeding pairs, recorded in the early 20th century. With the rapid decline of this species, the survival of individual penguins is critical.

Rescuing endangered African penguin chicks forms part of the Chick Bolstering Project (CBP), a multi-partner project between SANCCOB, the Bristol Zoological Society, the Animal Demography Unit (University of Cape Town), South African Department of Environmental Affairs (Oceans and Coasts), CapeNature, Robben Island Museum and SANParks.

Since the project’s inception in 2006, SANCCOB has successfully released more than 4 000 chicks back into the wild. Independent research confirms that the survival rate for these hand-reared penguins is similar to that of naturally-reared birds, making it an effective conservation intervention.  

As a non-profit organisation, SANCCOB asks the public to help raise the remaining African penguin chicks by contributing towards their rehabilitation costs:

  • R230 buys two boxes of fish
  • R500 helps to buy medicine and veterinary supplies
  • R1000 helps to feed and care for one chick

Donations can be made via SANCCOB’s website - www.sanccob.co.za - or through an electronic funds transfer to:

SANCCOB

First National Bank

Account #: 59 23 713 5859

Branch: 203809

Account type: Current

SWIFT: FIRNZAJJ461

Reference: Initials, surname & CHICK

Members of the public can also adopt and name a penguin, starting from R500, by visiting www.sanccob.co.za.