Adopt a chick call from African penguin rescue centre

Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds employees Debbie Layne, left, and Nolien Janse van Vuuren with some of the African penguin chicks rescued off Bird Island during the last severe cold front which the foundation is rehabilitating at its Cape Recife centre
PICK ME, PLEASE: Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds employees Debbie Layne, left, and Nolien Janse van Vuuren with some of the African penguin chicks rescued off Bird Island during the last severe cold front which the foundation is rehabilitating at its Cape Recife centre
Image: FREDLIN ADRIAAN

Adopt an endangered African penguin chick and help save the species.

That is the call from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, which is rehabilitating 79 chicks at its Cape Recife centre in Port Elizabeth.

The chicks were rescued from Bird Island after severe cold fronts hit the area in the first fortnight of June.

Foundation spokesperson Margot Collett said on Tuesday a staff member stationed on the island had alerted them after cold front storms with high winds and torrential rain destroyed a number of penguin nests.

“The parents were out foraging and it was clear that the chicks would die of exposure or hunger if we did not intervene.

“So working in co-operation with SANParks we captured them and brought them back to our Cape Recife centre for rehabilitation.

“We’ll look after them for 2½ months and then take them back home.

“They’re doing fine but they’re consuming a serious amount of fish so we are running an adopt a chick campaign to help raise awareness and to feed them.”

With SA inshore islands stripped of ammonia-rich seabird excrement or guano by the fertiliser trade of the late 1800s, penguins today can no longer burrow into this guano to make nests.

So African penguin nests are often more exposed now to bad weather and more flimsy — which leaves chicks and eggs vulnerable to storms.

Related to this problem, with the present acute shortage of anchovies and sardines to prey on, the parent penguins have to forage further afield, leaving their eggs and chicks vulnerable to predatory seagulls.

Collet said all these factors and the resultant steep decline in penguin numbers meant the organisation had to constantly monitor the population and be ready to intervene where they would not otherwise have done so.

“There are just 20,000 breeding pairs of African penguins left across their global range on the South African and Namibian coast and the two biggest colonies are on St Croix and Bird islands both here in Algoa Bay so helping each of these birds to survive is really important.”

The scarcity of prey fish was especially worrying, she said.

“Our normal local supplier has told us they have not been issued a permit to fish because the stocks are so low.

“So for the last six months our most cost-effective option has been sardines that come from Japan.”

The voracious little birds were fed whole fish and also fish gruel which the rehabilitation team mixed with vitamins and minerals to help strengthen the chicks in time for their release back on Bird Island in September, she said.

By that time the juvenile “blues” would have donned their first proper feathers and would be able to forage for themselves.

The adoption fee of R600 a chick was only a part of the full cost of rehabilitating the little birds but would be an important contribution, she said.

Anyone interested in adopting a chick or chicks can e-mail xola@sanccob.co.za

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