Orphaned African Penguin Chicks Back in the Swim

Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Cape Town, South Africa
Rescued from starving to death less than one month ago, 14 fat and flourishing African penguin chicks could scarcely wait to hit the waves when they were returned to Dyer Island today.

The chicks were among 62 saved from certain death in October by the “Chick Bolstering Project” of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) which rescues and hand rears African penguin chicks abandoned by their parents towards the end of the annual breeding season.

The chicks released today were the oldest admitted to SANCCOB at the end of October. Since their rescue SANCCOB’s dedicated volunteers and staff have fed the youngsters a twice-daily diet of fish formula and fish, and electrolyte fluids three times a day – making them barely recognisable as the scrawny birds that CapeNature officials earlier removed from Dyer Island.

“These 14 chicks have grown into chubby fledglings ready to fend for themselves in the wild,” said Venessa Strauss, Chief Executive Officer of SANCCOB.

“Our veterinary team evaluated the blood, weight and feather condition of the birds and they were deemed ready to go. Each birded was banded with a permanent ring on the left flipper so that scientists can monitor their survival, and marked with a temporary pink die on the chest.”

This morning the chicks were transported in boxes by boat to Dyer Island, about eight kilometres offshore from Gansbaai, in the Western Cape. Dyer Island is an important breeding colony of about 4,000 penguins.

“Once out of their boxes, the chicks lost no time in dashing into the sea for their first ever open water swim,” said Strauss.

Research published in 2008 by Bristol University, confirmed that African penguins hand reared and released into the wild are having a significant impact on conserving the wild populations of these birds.

“The chick bolstering project is an important intervention that will saves the lives of a great many penguin chicks that are abandoned by their parents towards the end of the breeding season,” said Jason Bell-Leask, Director Southern African of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org) which is partnering with SANCCOB and other groups on the project.

“African penguin numbers are in rapid decline and the bird appears on the IUCN red list, so this very innovative project which rescues and rehabilitates chicks to make them fit and strong enough to be returned to the wild where they can join the breeding population is very special.”

The Chick Bolstering Project is supported by the Bristol Zoo Gardens, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, Cape Nature, Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Marine and Coastal Management.

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