Penguin Palooza in Betty’s Bay
Pics Kyle Lestrade.
Main pic above: Among the team of volunteers tipping the penguin boxes above are Ward 10 Councillor Fanie Krige, Good Hope FM Breakfast Host Dan Corder, Vlogger Dev-Don-Did-It and SANCCOB international volunteers.
On Saturday, 27 October 2018, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and the provincial biodiversity conservation authority in the Western Cape, CapeNature, jointly hosted their third Penguin Palooza at the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay. This annual event formed part of the month-long October celebrations focused on creating awareness of the endangered African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) and marine conservation.
Proceedings commenced with an official opening address in the morning, then attendees were led into the colony area to watch the tipping of boxes to release African penguins back to the wild at the Stony Point penguin colony. Amongst these were birds that had been hatched from eggs, and hand-reared at SANCCOB’s Table View centre or rehabilitated because of injury or illness.
After the release, the Palooza event continued with a community market, including the Mooi Uitsig arts and crafts project by children from Betty’s Bay, a penguin movie screening, fun-filled educational activities and loads of prizes up for grabs.
The iconic and endangered African penguin is the only penguin species to naturally occur on the African continent. It was once one of South Africa’s most abundant seabirds, but has suffered a massive decline in numbers with only 2% of the historic population left in the wild today.
The three adults are rehabilitated birds and suffered from; an eye injury, a deep laceration to the flipper and one throat laceration. The flipper wound penguin was also in arrested moult. It resulted in extreme weakness as penguins cannot go into the ocean to feed feed without waterproof feathers. The circumstances causing the laceration to the flipper and throat are still unknown.
Dr Razeena Omar, Chief Executive Officer of CapeNature, the management authority of Stony Point, says, “This penguin colony is of national, as well as international, conservation significance for the African penguin species as it currently supports more breeding pairs than the three coastal islands in the Western Cape combined, namely; Dassen, Dyer and Robben Islands. These three islands were traditional ‘strongholds’ of African penguins and other breeding seabirds. Our partnership with SANCCOB to protect and conserve the species includes the joint employment of a Penguin Ranger to monitor the colony and transport sick or injured birds to SANCCOB for rehabilitation. Omar adds that this partnership provides a platform for CapeNature and SANCCOB to publically share its collaboration and have members of the surrounding communities engage and support the organisations.
The African penguin colony at Stony Point is one of the two mainland breeding colonies in South Africa (the other one being Boulders in Simon’s Town). Stony Point is the only colony that has shown an increase in the number of African penguins in the last decade.
Katta Ludynia, SANCCOB’s Research Manager, says, “Together, CapeNature and SANCCOB rangers rescue abandoned and weak chicks for rehabilitation at SANCCOB. Once healthy enough for release, we mark each penguin with a transponder, enabling SANCCOB to evaluate the survival and breeding locations of the penguins if they cross the strategically placed transponder readers at the colonies. Interesting news this year is that the hand-reared chicks released with transponders in 2013 and 2014 are now successfully breeding at the colonies, including Stony Point in Betty’s Bay, Robben Island and Boulders in Simon’s Town, i.e. they are starting to breed at the same age as birds reared in the wild which means that we successfully bolster the breeding population of this endangered species.”
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The blues were all admitted as abandoned chicks. Their parents went into moult and could not care for them. A positive highlight for this year's event is that it will be the first time stepping into the wild for these young birds - as the only natural experience would have been in their nests.