South African Oiled Penguin Rescue Scores Record Results

Wednesday, 16 August, 2000
Cape Town, South Africa
Eight weeks into the world's worst ever oil-spill bird disaster, rescuers from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW -- are beginning to count the cost of the successful, intensive and non-stop care of more than 20,000 African penguins -- and the figures loom large.
As of today, more than 11,000 individuals have donated the equivalent of 39,614 volunteer days to assist with the rescue and rehabilitation of the penguins affected by a massive oil spill caused by the June 23 sinking of the ore carrier MV Treasure. This equates to no less than 554,596 hours or 63.31 years of volunteers' time at an average of 14 hours worked daily.

"The figures are astounding," said Sarah Scarth, IFAW Country Director for South Africa and co-coordinator of IFAW's Emergency Relief Team, which over the course of the penguin rescue was joined by more than 102 international oiled wildlife experts to assist in the effort.

Scarth said the record-breaking figures were, "exact testimony to why the world simply can not afford to allow oil spills - however big or small - to continue to happen.

"Oil spills are hugely expensive, vastly time consuming and - in this case - have placed the survival of an entire species at risk."

The MV Treasure - estimated to be carrying 1,300 metric tons of fuel oil - sank 8 kilometers (5 miles) off the coast of Cape Town, spilling its fuel and critically endangered 41 per cent of the African Penguin population (classified as vulnerable under IUCN guidelines).

The management of this penguin crisis has been a partnership between the IFAW Emergency Relief Team and the South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). SANCCOB estimates its immediate costs in caring for the birds at R13-million (nearly US$2 million), while IFAW is expecting its bill to top R3.5-million (US$500,000).

A total of 20,223 penguins (including 723 chicks) have been cared for at two centers run by IFAW/SANCCOB in the Cape Town suburbs of Salt River and Rietvlei, while 13,797 of the birds have been washed clean of the MV Treasure´s leaked fuel oil.

To date, IFAW and SANCCOB have released back to the wild more than 7,000 rescued and rehabilitated penguins, and hope to release a total of 10,000 by the end of this week.

Caring for these birds is no small task. So far the birds have consumed 353 metric tons of sardines (pilchards), costing R882,500 (nearly US$130,000) in total. Much funding for this effort has come from generous members of the public who have donated goods or funds to save these penguins.

"The South African government - like many worldwide - does not have funds set up to support animal welfare programs through crisis periods," commented Scarth. "This disaster has clearly illustrated the essential need for bridging finance schemes that will allow coastal communities and NGOs to be to able to cope in such disasters."

In addition to caring for the penguins, the rescue efforts had to manage up to 1,000 volunteers on a daily basis to keep the rehabilitation wheels turning. Volunteers have consumed 75 liters of soup per day made by the South African Navy, as well as 60 liters of milk a day, to add to the 500 kilograms of instant coffee they have consumed since the crisis began.

In addition, volunteers have consumed one metric ton of sugar, 500 kilograms each of apples and oranges, an equal amount of margarine, 2,400 eggs, 100 kilograms of peanut butter, 200 kilograms of jam, as well as three metric tons of flour that was donated and made into bread by a local baker.

"This rescue effort was unprecedented," said Scarth, "but without such a massive undertaking and without the help of these thousands of committed individuals and the work, funds and expertise of organizations such as IFAW and SANNCOB, the African penguin population could have faced extinction."

The International Fund for Animal Welfare works to improve the welfare of wild and domestic animals throughout the world by reducing commercial exploitation of animals, protecting wildlife habitats, and assisting animals in distress.

IFAW seeks to motivate the public to prevent cruelty to animals and to promote animal welfare and conservation policies that advance the well being of both animals and people.

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Senior Program Advisor
Senior Program Advisor
Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
IFAW Veterinarian
Katie Moore, Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Deputy Vice President, Conservation and Animal Welfare
Loïs Lelanchon, Animal Rescue Program Officer
Animal Rescue Program Officer
Shannon Walajtys
Manager, Animal Rescue-Disasters
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Consulting Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy