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 recently released global Living Planet Index provides a stark reminder of the state of biodiversity, revealing a staggering 68% average decline in the population sizes of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish between 1970 and 2016 – less than 50 years – a blink of an eye when compared to the millions of years since many of these species have inhabited Earth. If we ever needed a reminder, this should make us sit up and take note. I applaud the dedicated, professional and passionate staff at SANCCOB, who play a critical role in ensuring the reversal of these declines. Economic growth in the past half century has changed our world unrecognisably, driving exponential health, knowledge and standard of living improvements. Yet this has come at a huge cost to nature and the stability of the Earth’s operating systems. We know that the natural systems – which sustain the amazing diversity of life, which provide food, water regulation, climate stability, and which our economies rely on – can’t withstand such growing pressure.

But we are seeing a turning of the tide. Nature is higher than ever before on the political and economic agenda. In September 2020, nearly 150 countries and 72 Heads of State will address the first ever United Nations Summit on biodiversity to build political momentum towards the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. This sends a united signal to step up global ambition for biodiversity and to commit to matching our collective ambition for nature with the scale of the crisis at hand. This signal was echoed by the World Economic Forum Global Risk report 2020, which includes biodiversity loss amongst the top five risks to society and the global economy. The science has never been clearer, and the awareness of the problems and the consequences has never been higher.

This takes place at a time when much of the world is rebuilding and recovering from Covid-19. What this pandemic has highlighted for me is the deep interconnection between planetary health and human health, and the need to transition to a society and economic system that values nature, and stops taking it for granted. So, it’s against this backdrop that I thank our staff, members, volunteers and supporters. It has been inspiring to see how we have pulled together for the sake of our seabirds and nature in general. It has been an immense privilege to be the Chair of an institution that is as well-respected and successful as SANCCOB. I know we will continue to go 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
Dr Katta (Katrin) Ludynia
Research Manager
Rushaan Martheze
Procurement Officer
Romy Klusener
Rehabilitation Manager
Nicky Stander
Preparedness and Response Manager
Dr Lauren Waller
Leiden Conservation Fellow
Margot Collett
PE Centre Manager
Curtly Ambrose
Bird Rehabilitator
Ronnis Daniels
Resource Development Manager
Melissa Cadman
Chick Rearing Unit Supervisor
Sibongile George
Rehabilitation Assistant
Sharnay Adams
Education Supervisor
Kyle Maurer
Bird Rehabilitator
Nolien Janse van Vuuren
Bird Rehabilitator PE
Francé van Wyk
Bird Rehabilitator
Zamokuhle Lazola
Bird Rehabilitator PE
Tonia Wyngaard
Resource Developer: Individuals
Alex Rogers
Xola Tsewu
Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator (PE)
Gavin Petersen
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Stony Point)
Eduard Drost
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Bird Island)
Peter van der Linde
Bird Rehabilitator
Dr David Roberts
Clinical Veterinarian
Albert Snyman
Michelle Brackenridge
Administrator (PE)
Taryn Joshua
Education Supervisor PE
Andile Mdluli
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Robben Island)
Brittany Lowe
Volunteer and Intern Coordinator
Megan McCarthy
Data Administrator


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.