Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds

Saving seabirds

Since 1968

seabirds admitted
seabird species treated
penguin chicks reared since 2001
African penguins admitted annually

SANCCOB is a registered non-profit organisation (NPO 003-134) whose primary objective is to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation and release of ill, injured, abandoned and oiled seabirds – especially endangered species like the African penguin.

The organisation works closely with colony managers to identify birds in need of care in the wild and bring them to one of our two centres in South Africa: Cape Town (Western Cape) and Port Elizabeth (Eastern Cape).

In a normal year where no oil spills occur, SANCCOB treats up to 2 500 seabirds, of which approximately 1 500 are African penguins. The remainder include various cormorants species (including the endangered Bank cormorant and Cape cormorant); various species of terns; pelagic birds such as albatrosses, gannets and petrels; oystercatchers, gulls, pelicans and other coastal birds found in the region. On average,  24 different seabird species are rehabilitated every year.

SANCCOB is an internationally recognised leader in oiled wildlife response, rehabilitation and chick-rearing; contributes to research which benefits seabirds; trains people to care for the birds and educates the public to develop behavioural patterns which benefit marine life and the environment.

Our organisation is registered with the South African Veterinary Council; a member of PAZAAB, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN); is endorsed by the Department of Environmental Affairs, World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, European Association of Zoos and Aquariums and American Association of Zoos and Aquariums; and has many working partnerships globally.


SANCCOB saves seabirds


SANCCOB provides a 24/7 rescue service for sick and injured seabirds and abandoned chicks. We respond to oil spill disasters along the South African coastline.


SANCCOB is recognised internationally as a leader in the field of seabird rehabilitation. We treat 2500 injured, sick and oiled seabirds annually.

Chick Rearing

Our specialist chick rearing unit saves African penguin eggs and chicks that have been abandoned, for subsequent release back into the wild.

Oiled Wildlife Preparedness & Response

SANCCOB works with various stakeholders to ensure authorities take appropriate preparedness action to mitigate oil spill risks off the South African coastline and responds to oiled marine wildlife.


We offer various engaging lessons for children and adults, including tours of the facilities, presentations and encounters with our Ambassador penguins.


We offer 3 and 6 month internships for adults, as well as a zoo and aquarium keeper exchange programme and veterinary experience courses.


Ongoing research increases our understanding of seabird species’ behaviour, diseases and other factors that impact on their long-term survival.

Penguin & Seabird Rangers

SANCCOB employs conservation staff in colonies in the Western Cape that are under the protection of conservation authorities to monitor seabirds, nests and habitats, and support critical research.


Message from the Chairperson

The past year has not been without its challenges, but I am immensely proud of how SANCCOB staff, volunteers and partners have displayed passion, dedication and commitment to our seabirds. The impact of COVID-19 continues to challenge us.
Field work has been restricted and our facilities have been closed to the public for extended periods of time, impacting our funding and public awareness. We have experienced fewer call-outs to distressed seabirds, due to the public not being permitted on the beaches. However, we have been able to successfully stay connected with stakeholders through a range of online and innovative events.

Our online AGM was a great success and allowed the participation of many more attendees than usual, including those from abroad. Other online events included the Virtual Penguin Run, African Penguin Awareness Day and Penguin Palooza, which were all huge successes. We also saw some exciting improvements in our infrastructure such as a new rehabilitation pool and associated pens at SANCCOB Gqeberha.

Sadly, our seabirds continue to face severe challenges. This year we witnessed the second-largest seabird rescue since the MV Treasure Spill in 2000. A total of 2,038 Cape cormorants were rescued from Robben and Jutten islands during January 2021. 1,090 of these were successfully released, resulting in a release rate of 53%, which is something to be proud of, since cormorants are notoriously challenging to rehabilitate. 90% of the mortalities were experienced in the first eight days due to the poor condition of the chicks upon their arrival at SANCCOB. A further success includes the adoption of The National Oil Spill Contingency Plan for South Africa by the Director-General of Transport. This Plan formally recognises the important role SANCCOB plays as a response organisation for oil-affected seabirds in the case of a spill.

Finally, SANCCOB continues to spread its wings across the geographical range of many endemic seabirds, such as the African penguin, by partnering with Debmarine-Namdeb, Namibian Chamber of Environment, Namibia Nature Foundation, Dr Jessica Kemper and The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, to form the Namibian Foundation for the Conservation of Birds (NAMCOB). I have no doubt that we will see this collaboration growing, in our shared commitment to the conservation of coastal birds across southern Africa. Dr Stephen van der Spuy has been a visionary leader and has led SANCCOB passionately, achieving great things in his time as CEO. Stephen will be sorely missed by the SANCCOB Board of Directors and staff, and also the seabirds. We wish him all the best in his next chapter and thank him for his tremendous contribution to SANCCOB and to seabird conservation.

On behalf of the SANCCOB Board of Directors, I have the pleasure of announcing that after an extensive recruitment process, we have decided to appoint Natalie Maskell as Chief Executive Officer of SANCCOB. Being at the head of a world-renowned organisation such as SANCCOB is a multifaceted job and Natalie is now taking over the reins to manage a passionate team, who will undoubtedly continue to thrive in their roles. We wish Natalie everything of the very best in the position and are confident in her ability to take SANCCOB from strength to strength.

Play your part:

Whether you give money, time or talent, your contribution is needed today to help save endangered seabirds like the African penguin and Bank cormorant.


Chief Executive Officer, Natalie Maskell, leads a dedicated team of specialist veterinarians, research, bird rehabilitators, fundraising, public relations and education staff. Read more here.

Natalie Maskell
Chief Executive Officer
Melissa Knott
Head of Operations
Nicky Stander
Head of Conservation
Dr Katta (Katrin) Ludynia
Research Manager
Carl Havemann
Gqeberha Centre Manager
Romy Klusener
Rehabilitation Manager
Dr David Roberts
Clinical Veterinarian
Monica Stassen
Preparedness and Response Manager
Delene Goch
Curtly Ambrose
Bird Rehabilitator
Ronnis Daniels
Resource Development Manager
Melissa Cadman
Chick Rearing Unit Supervisor
Rushaan Martheze
Procurement Officer
Marlize van der Merwe
Resource Developer: Group
Sibongile George
Rehabilitation Assistant
Sharnay Adams
Education Supervisor
Kyle Maurer
Bird Rehabilitator
Aidan Bellingan
Rehabilitation Supervisor (Gqeberha)
Zamokuhle Lazola
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Bird Island)
Tonia Wyngaard
Resource Developer: Individuals
Alex Rogers
Gavin Petersen
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Stony Point)
Calista van Zyl
Administrator (Gqeberha)
Peter van der Linde
Bird Rehabilitator
Kirstie Paulse
Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator (Gqeberha)
Nicholas Ngcathu
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Robben Island)
Albert Snyman
Taryn Joshua
Education Supervisor - Gqeberha
Brittany Lowe
Volunteer and Intern Coordinator
Megan McCarthy
Data Administrator
Bernadette Payne
Bird Rehabilitator - Gqeberha


Dr Samantha Petersen
Inge Cilliers
Dr Azwianewi Makhado
Board Director
Dr Anton Wolfaardt
Board Director
Vernon Boulle
Board Director


In the late 1960s, a remarkable woman named Althea Louise Burman Westphal set up a temporary station at her home in Claremont to treat oiled penguins, after realising that the SPCA’s facilities were not suitable for this task.

The Esso Essen spill was the first of the major recognised spills and Althea began rehabilitating 60 badly oiled penguins. In those days, the birds were scrubbed with Sunlight soap, three at a time in Althea’s bathroom and rinsed with a hose. She fed them long strips of hake, which had been dipped in cooking oil. The birds were given a 50/50 chance of survival.

The penguins had a wooden trailer filled with water in Althea’s garden as their swimming pool. Later, she obtained a huge stainless steel dye vat to use as a pool. Two or three times a week the birds were driven to Blaauwberg in Althea’s station wagon, marched down the beach to the tidal pool and allowed to swim for an hour.

The first flipper rings were coloured bias binding, and then dymotape and finally G rings which were supplied by the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute (PFPI) of UCT.

During this time, Althea carried out extensive research on the “Jackass penguin” to help her understand its lifestyle and dietary requirements. Early in 1968 Althea started enquiries into establishing a rescue operation, and eventually she persuaded Dr Roy Siegfried of PFPI to help her launch SANCCOB – a task they believed would cost about R150 000. Eventually a group of concerned individuals rallied together, including members of PFPI and the SA Army, and SANCCOB was founded.

Proof that the African penguin species was declining was obtained through photographic evidence of the islands from 1914 to the 1930s. Althea was given a permit to operate by the Department of Guano Islands, and a grant of R10 000 from the SA Wildlife Foundation (now the WWF) for a three year Population Dynamics Study on Dassen Island. SANCCOB achieved its first milestone in December of 1969 at a conference in the Kruger National Park when the collection of penguin eggs on the islands was banned.

Althea’s efforts in seabird conservation continued for decades, and she was recognised by conservation organisations such as SA Nature Foundation and the World Wide Fund for Nature and Conservation. She nourished and drove SANCCOB from its modest early stages to become an international leader in coastal bird rehabilitation, and was eventually made Honorary Life President. She was a dynamic, determined, self-motivated, dedicated and committed philanthropist and environmental conservationist – the likes of which South Africa may never see again.

Althea Westphal passed away on the 7th of August 2002, survived by her daughter Jane and her grandchildren, Melanie and Andrew. Her legacy lives on in the dynamic, internationally recognised organisation she co-founded.

Information supplied by: Bruce Coultas and Elizabeth Cridland

This video gallery is an easy way to access our YouTube uploads. Sometimes we will share videos of interest, captured by our staff, Penguin and Seabird Rangers or volunteers. We also often have the privilege of working with professional videographers and film makers, who dedicate their expertise and time to create short films of the critical conservation work we do, as well as of projects and programmes.