VIDEO: ‘Operation Luderitz’ a Success for Oiled African Penguins
Following a plea for help from the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to assist in saving the lives of 129 oiled African penguins off the coast of Luderitz in Namibia, internationally recognized seabird rehabilitator, the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) mobilized its team of experts and volunteers to move the penguins 1,300km to their centre in Cape Town for essential treatment.
African penguins are listed as 'vulnerable' to extinction on the IUCN Red Data list and there are only 27,000 breeding pairs of these charismatic birds left, down from 4 million within the last century.
The oiled penguins are the result of an oil spill from an unknown source around the Mercury, Ichaboe, Halifax and Possession islands just off the coast of Luderitz. Poor visibility, heavy mists and high swell have made it impossible to determine the cause of the oiling, but according to Jessica Kemper, seabird biologist at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, 'the water around Mercury Island was frothy with foam' on Thursday last week and 'our island technician based there could smell the oil'.
Jessica Kemper and SANCCOB CEO, Venessa Strauss, monitored the situation as it developed and on Thursday, 16 April 2009 last week they reached a joint decision to move the birds to SANCCOB rehabilitation centre in Cape Town which is equipped to handle up to 2,000 oiled birds.
On Monday (20 April) Vanesssa flew up to spearhead the evacuation and to assist Jessica to assess the situation and drove back in the truck with the penguins. Jessica was working from the Ministry's small seabird rehabilitation station and a shed which had been turned into a makeshift holding pen and was working around the clock with a handful of staff and volunteers to stabilize the penguins in readiness for their epic journey to Cape Town. Due to the working relationship between SANCCOB and the Namibian government, Jessica had essential medication available to perform the initial treatment to save the penguins.
After 19 hours of non-strop traveling Venessa arrived at SANCCOB triumphant where she immediately joined her colleagues to get the 'Namibian patients' admitted.
It is expected that the penguins will be fully recovered in about two week’s time. The rehabilitation process at SANCCOB includes feeding twice daily, hydrating the penguins with an electrolyte solution and a weekly veterinary evaluation that consists of taking a blood sample, weighing and a waterproof feather test. Once the penguins are ready for release, they will be released from a beach in Cape Town and it is anticipated that they will swim back to their original breeding colonies in Namibia.
The rescue of these ‘vulnerable’ to extinction African penguins could not have been done without the generous support of our partner, the International Fund for Animal Welfare.
The text of this report was filed by Margaret Roestorf from SANCCOB.