“Growing emaciated, emaciated and starving.” This was the conclusion of dr. Liezl Pretorius, zoologist and veterinarian from the Dyreiland Conservation Trust’s African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS), after two penguin carcasses were found in the vicinity of Gansbaai.
According to Wilfred Chivell, CEO of Marine Dynamics and founder of this marine conservation organization in Kleinbaai, a member of the public called to report the two dead penguins.
“It is extremely worrying that penguin carcasses are found, where the penguins are obviously so starved that there is no layer of fat even under the skin. The bodies were emaciated and just a pile of bones,” Pretorius found after a necropsy.
RNews reported early that the African penguins will possibly no longer be able to breed functionally from 2030, because there will be too few of the endangered adult birds to be able to carry out their breeding function as parents.
On the island, the population has also drastically decreased from 25,000 breeding pairs in the 1970s, to a mere 1,500 pairs this year.
Another concern for the conservation trust is that there is not enough fish on the island to feed the approximately 350 chicks that are left here by their parents every year between October and January.
The reason for this, explains Pretorius, is that the parent pairs are moulting at this time and that their feather-manel suits are not waterproof and they cannot catch fish for the little team.
“Penguin orphans are simply left behind in the nest by their parents, but are far too young, some only a few days old, to be able to catch fish for themselves and protect themselves from seals and seagulls, who make a meal of them. Each nest on Dyre Island is monitored by the conservation trust’s bird ranger, who lives permanently on the island. If he sees that the parents do not return to the nest and the chicks’ condition deteriorates drastically, the chicks are removed and brought to the refuge. Here they are treated and cared for, until they are old and strong enough to survive alone on the island. “
Trudi Malan, a conservation officer at the APSS, says that during the busy chick season, around 100 kg of fish are used daily to feed hungry penguin bellies.
The local fishing community of Gansbaai is also concerned about the drastic decrease in fish numbers this year. “The only solution is if the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and Environmental Affairs controls fishing areas better. Certain areas must remain closed for certain times to give the fish species a chance to breed, otherwise this will have a massive effect on humans and animal species and ultimately on the survival of our greatest source of oxygen, the ocean,” says Chivell.
Further pressure is caused by constant, prolonged power outages. “There is currently no money for a generator at the refuge – and two large gas freezers are an urgent necessity.” This is to freeze the 1.5 tonnes of fish that must be purchased to provide for the “chick crisis”.
According to Malan, a 215 liter gas chest freezer costs around R8 000. “Definitely money that could be used to buy fish instead.”
“The trust is facing a conservation crisis at hand – not only the daily entanglement in fishing line and plastic, seal and seagull catches among penguins, oil pollution and diseases among marine animals and seabirds, but now also power cuts, no or unfrozen fish and starving penguins .”
Anyone who wants to get involved can contact Christine Wessels, spokesperson for the organisation, by sending an e-mail to [email protected]. Visit the website here to make a donation.