Saving seabirds

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.


mariette2Message from the Chairperson

I would like to wish SANCCOB a blessed 50th jubilee celebration! What a phenomenal milestone, and an honour and reflection on my dear friend and founder of this organisation, Althea Westphal. I salute her initiative, courage and dedication in the marine bird conservation field and every single person who worked and volunteered at SANCCOB over the years.

Another SANCCOB milestone reached this year is the upgrading of our current marine bird rehabilitation centre in Table View, which is near completion. We are very excited about this state-of-the-art facility, which will be officially opened in November 2018. I truly believe that Althea Westphal and so many who joined her previously and those who are joining us now in the cause to save marine birds will be extremely proud.

For a moment I would like to focus on the importance of our oceans, the marine ecosystem and all species living in it and the impact of humankind on it. Over hundreds of years, human existence has relied on the ocean. As the largest ecosystem on earth, it produces 70% of the oxygen we breathe, absorbs carbon dioxide, and provides us with much-needed protein-based food resources.

With more than half of the world’s population living within 100 kilometers of the coast and a growing global human population, we have had a tremendous impact on the quality of the oceanic and coastal environment. Currently, overfishing and pollution are major factors threatening the survival of a healthy ocean ecosystem and marine species, and more specifically endangered species such as the African penguin.

My question to you today is: What are you and I doing about it? Are you a mainstream follower or are you indeed taking this challenge to save our oceans, the species, ourselves, and the planet, to the next level by managing what you consume and by taking serious responsibility? In your very own home and office, are you practicing the values of a circular economy through reducing, re-using, recycling and composting what you use? Are you taking a stand with like-minded people to create a waste-less future and clean ocean in order to co-exist? If not, the time is here, the time is now – we need to take responsibility, participate and act!

It is evident that SANCCOB is a most important role-player and leader in seabird research, conservation, marine education, as well as in oiled wildlife preparedness and response globally. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the whole SANCCOB team; it is heart-warming and bears evidence of your passion and dedication. To the SANCCOB board of directors, you are all unique and truly an inspiration to work with. Thank you for effortlessly giving your time and input to strategically govern this beautiful organisation this past year. I would like to thank our volunteers for their commitment and dedication to our organisation. Lastly, I would like to extend a SANCCOB hand of friendship to each person who supports our cause and partners with our organisation. Let the challenges of today bring change for a phenomenal future!

– Ms Mariette Hopley

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, Dr Stephen van der Spuy, leads a dedicated team of specialist veterinarians, bird rehabilitators, fundraising, PR and education staff.

Dr Stephen van der Spuy
Chief Executive Officer
Natalie Maskell
Business Manager
Melissa Knott
Dr Katta (Katrin) Ludynia
Research Manager
Rushaan Martheze
Procurement Officer
Jaimie Whyte
Bird Rehabilitator
Romy Klusener
Chick Rearing Unit Supervisor
Nicky Stander
Rehabilitation Manager (WC)
Dr Lauren Waller
Leiden Conservation Fellow
Margot Collett
PE Centre Manager
Curtly Ambrose
Bird Rehabilitator
Ronnis Daniels
Public Relations Officer
Melissa Cadman
Bird Rehabilitator
Hedwich Tulp
Resource Development Manager
Ra'eesah Hendricks
Eljoren Goeda
Bird Rehabilitator
Sibongile George
Rehabilitation Assistant (WC)
Sharnay Adams
Education Supervisor
Rab Naidoo
Rehabilitation Supervisor PE
Zamokuhle Lazola
Rehabilitation Assistant PE
Alex Rogers
Xola Tsewu
Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator (Eastern Cape)
Gavin Peterson
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Stony Point)
Angela Wilmot
Volunteer Coordinator
Christian Triay
Preparedness & Response Manager
Peter van der Linde
Bird Rehabilitator
Dr David Roberts
Clinical Veterinarian
Albert Snyman
Research Assistant
Michelle Brackenridge
PE Administrator
Philipa Wood
PE Education Manager
Mashudu Mashau
African penguin Area Manager: Simon’s Town
Stephanie Brisland
Data Administrator
Andile Mdluli
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Robben Island)


Dr Samantha Petersen
Inge Cilliers
Peter Misselbrook
Board Director
Dr Azwianewi Makhado
Board Director
Iain Hamilton
Board Director
Dr Anton Wolfaardt
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