Fostering nearly 300 abandoned African penguin chicks

This update is sent courtesy of Francois Louw, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) Development and Marketing Officer.--CP

Since 20 October, SANCCOB, a non-profit seabird centre in South Africa and International Fund for Animal Welfare partner, has rescued 279 abandoned African penguin chicks.

These small, fluffy chicks were admitted to SANCCOB’s centres in Cape Town, South Africa from their colonies because their parents were unable to care for them. The chicks would otherwise not have survived.

Our staff and volunteers are giving these little birds the best care in the world to ensure they will be released back into the wild, healthy, well-fed and ready to face life in the ocean.

Parent penguins do not abandon their chicks on purpose. Once a year, adult penguins undergo their annual feather-change, also known as moulting. During this process, which lasts three to four weeks, the parents replace their “tuxedo” with a brand new set of waterproof feathers to last them for another year.

While undergoing this feather-change, they are unable to go into the ocean to hunt for fish so they make sure they have enough fat reserves to sustain themselves for the three- to four-week period. If, however, they have chicks in the nest that have yet to fledge – the adults are unable to feed them and, as a result, these chicks become abandoned and face starvation unless conservation organisations like SANCCOB and its partners intervene.

Pablo the penguins

This year, the need for support is more than it has been in the past.

Once in SANCCOB’s care, the process of rehabilitating and rearing these helpless chicks can take anywhere from six weeks to three months. According to Nicky Stander, SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation Manager: “The majority of the chicks admitted this year are significantly smaller and younger than previous years. This means that they will stay for much longer at SANCCOB and therefore the cost of raising them will increase as a result.”

SANCCOB’s staff continually monitors the chicks’ weight, health and ensures that they develop a healthy plumage of waterproof feathers. Once the chicks have received the final nod of approval from SANCCOB’s veterinary team and are at fledging age, they are released back into an established colony like Boulders Beach or Stony Point.

Since the project’s inception in 2006, SANCCOB has successfully hand-reared and released almost 4 000 chicks which otherwise would not have survived on their own.

The African penguin, one of South Africa’s most iconic species, was classified as endangered in 2010. With an estimated 25 000 breeding pairs left in the wild, the population is at approximately 2.5 per cent 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 if we want to save this charismatic species from extinction.

SANCCOB and its project partners are working to preserve the wild African penguin population by rescuing abandoned eggs and chicks and releasing them back into the wild, after being successfully hand-reared at one of its two seabird centres. On-going research shows that the rehabilitated chicks’ survival rate is comparable to that of naturally reared birds.

This is, therefore, one of the most important interventions to conserve the dwindling African penguin population.

The success of the project relies heavily on donations to pay for fish, medicine, veterinary supplies, and electricity for the incubators, staff training and equipment needed for the rehabilitation process.

To help raise these African penguin chicks over the festive period, you can contribute to their rehabilitation costs.

  • $18 buys three boxes of fish
  • $50 helps to buy medicine and veterinary supplies
  • $100 helps to feed and care for one chick

Thank you for your support!

--FL

Please make a gift to IFAW to help us help abandoned African penguin chicks.

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