Penguin Chicks Orphaned In South Africa
Rescuers have gone to the relief of African penguin chicks orphaned and in danger of starving to death in colonies around the Western Cape coastline of South Africa.
Yesterday, in a mercy mission to Dyer Island, officials rescued an initial 35 chicks and more will likely be collected from the island in the coming days. Dyer Island is just off the the Western Cape of Africa and is an important breeding colony for about 4, 000 African penguins.
Because of the number of juvenile penguins orphaned and the predicament they now face alone in the wild, IFAW and SANCCOB have worked together to develop (and cleverly name) a “Chick Bolstering Project”. The intent of this project is to rescue the juveniles from the island they are currently on, shuffle them over to SANCCOB's rehabilitation center in South Africa and care for them until they are strong adolescent penguins.
“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 to be applauded and supported,”said Jason Bell-Leask, Director Southern Africa of IFAW.
The rescued chicks will be hand reared at SANCCOB over the next three months, before being released back into their home colonies.
On several penguin colonies, including Dyer Island and Stoney Point near Betty’s Bay, chicks that hatch late in the season (from September onwards) are frequently abandoned by their parents when the weather grows warmer and as food supplies diminish.
These chicks are unlikely to survive if left in the wild, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that adult penguins begin their annual moult at this time of the year. During moulting the penguins shed their old feathers and grow new ones, leaving them not waterproof and therefore unable to swim, catch fish and unable to feed their chicks.
Venessa Strauss, Chief Executive Officer of SANCCOB, said the phenomenon of adult African penguins abandoning their young is not unusual.
“In 2006, SANCCOB reared 841 orphaned chicks and last year another 481 needed our help. More than 80 per cent of the rescued chicks were released back into the wild to start contributing to the breeding population in the next couple of years.
“Our research shows that hand rearing African penguins has a significant effect on conserving the wild population, with hand reared and released chicks showing higher survivorship to breeding age and higher productivity than birds that fledge naturally in the wild,” said Strauss.
Numbers of African penguins have shown a catastrophic decline in recent years. In 2008 the African penguin population reached an all-time low of 26, 000 breeding pairs down from an estimated two-million pairs at the turn of the 20th Century.
“This makes each individual chick very precious to our efforts to conserve this already vulnerable species and research conducted by the Fitzpatrick Institute of the University of Cape Town found that the African penguin population is 19 per cent higher today thanks to SANCCOB’s rehabilitation efforts,” said Strauss.
Other conservation role players involved in addressing the catastrophic decline in African penguin numbers by initiating the “Chick Bolstering Project” include Bristol Zoo Gardens, the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town, CapeNature, Dyer Island Conservation Trust and Marine and Coastal Management.