The festive period has been another busy one for SANCCOB as the seabird rehabilitation centre in Table View admitted over 350 abandoned African penguin chicks since 1 November 2012. The bulk of the 6-8 week old chicks came from the Stony Point colony in Betty’s Bay, a thriving penguin colony and one of the few land-based colonies in southern Africa. Numerous penguin chicks historically become abandoned at the end of the breeding season just before the parents start their annual moulting cycle.
During this time the parents replace their ‘tuxedo’ with a brand new set of waterproof feathers and are unable to hunt for fish and feed their young during the three to four week moulting process. As a result, the chicks that have yet to fledge are abandoned and face starvation unless conservation organisations like SANCCOB intervene.
Working together with the Overstrand Municipality and CapeNature, underweight and ill chicks are identified in the colonies and brought to SANCCOB on a weekly basis for rehabilitation from November to January every year. Once at the centre, the ‘Christmas chicks’ (as they are fondly named) are stabilised, hydrated, fed and given all the care and nurturing from the rehabilitation staff ‘adoptees’ for 6 to 8 weeks. Once they are the right weight and age, and received the final nod of approval from SANCCOB’s veterinary team they are released back into the wild.
This year, many of the chicks admitted were in a very poor condition. Plant matter like twigs and shrubs were often found in their stomachs and is an indication that these little guys will do anything to survive. Luckily, through the hard-work and expertise of SANCCOB’s rehabilitation department and with the help from local and international volunteers, most of the ‘Christmas chicks’ are recovering well and gulfing up to six fish per setting.
The first batch of chicks was released on 1 January 2013 from Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town. Since then, SANCCOB has been releasing fit and healthy chicks back into the wild twice a week either from Boulders Beach or off Robben Island with the assistance from the Waterfront Boat Company.
Since 2001, SANCCOB has successfully released 2425 chicks from moulting parents back into the wild. Research has proved that hand-reared chicks fare as well as naturally-reared chicks in the wild. With less than 24 000 breeding pairs left in the wild, African penguins are an endangered species and it remains critical to save every individual possible to bolster the numbers in the wild. The hand-rearing of orphaned chicks is seen as an essential and successful component of bolstering the wild population.