UPDATE: South African Penguin Rescue
Penguin expert Ralph Vanstreels, a PhD student from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil was supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare to keep an eye on the penguin chicks currently being hand-reared in South Africa. Ralph managed to spare some time from his busy schedule to send us the following post:
Three weeks have passed so quickly here at SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds)! Through an IFAW grant, I have come all the way from Brazil to work alongside with Dr. Nola Parsons, SANCCOB's chief veterinarian, in order to help keeping in check the health of the abandoned chicks at the African Penguin Chick Bolstering Project. This year, nearly 500 penguin chicks of this endangered species would have died after being abandoned by their parents, if they had not been rescued by the project partners and brought to SANCCOB for rehabilitation. There are only 21,000 breeding pairs left in the wild, so this means that 1% of the worldwide population of African penguins are currently being cared for by the SANCCOB team!
Dr. Parsons has shown me the way into the laboratory routine here at SANCCOB, and in the past weeks I have assisted her in performing as much blood exams and post-mortem examinations as humanly possible. We have worked every day (and many nights) to diagnose ill penguins, give them the appropriate treatment and monitor the health of this massive penguin chick rearing operation. In three weeks, we have examined blood samples of nearly all of the 500 penguins, some of them more than once, to make sure they were healthy! To date only 12% of the birds admitted have died, which is excellent considering how weak and fragile the chicks were when they first come in. Most of the birds that died were diagnosed with severe emaciation. The rest of the birds are all gaining weight and growing well and we still expect a very good release rate.
It was very satisfying, I have learnt so much with Dr. Parsons and I believe I have helped to carry the load of her insane routine.
Now that my mission is fulfilled, I hand over the task to Dr. Ann Berliner, a veterinarian from the Georgia Aquarium, USA, who has also come as a volunteer to assist Dr. Parsons. The penguins should be ready for release early in January, and I think it will definitely be a great moment for all of us involved in this effort. And for the penguins, of course! Tomorrow I head back to Brazil and return to my duties in researching diseases in Magellanic penguins (the South American cousins of the African penguins), this time carrying the huge responsibility of sharing everything I learned from Dr. Parsons and all of SANCCOB's staff back to the Brazilian branch of the IFAW Penguin Network. There, I will rejoin my colleagues and present what I have seen and learned, and continue our effort to unite rehabilitators and researchers across the world, together with IFAW, to save the penguins!
Quote from SANCCOB's Veterinarian, Dr. Nola Parsons: “Ralph was an incredible support to the team in terms of his enthusiasm and interest in helping out wherever he was needed – whether it was bleeding penguins, looking at blood smears, cleaning syringes or feeding 100 hungry penguin chicks on the weekend when we were short of volunteers! It was especially helpful to be able to rely on Ralph to evaluate the blood samples and perform post-mortems as this enabled me to do more of the day-to-day checking of the birds in the centre. Our most sincere thanks to IFAW for making it possible for Ralph to assist us in such a big way!”
For more information about IFAW efforts to protect animals around the world, visit www.ifaw.org