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.


Message from the Chairperson

It’s a great honour for me to take up the position of Chair of SANCCOB, an organisation which is very dear to my heart and one with which I’ve had a long standing and proud relationship. From being a volunteer vet nurse in the Apollo Sea Oil spill in 1994, to Rehabilitation Manager during the Treasure and more recently as a board director for the past 10 years. I want to take this opportunity to thank Mariette Hopley, the outgoing Chairperson, for her incredible contribution to SANCCOB’s success and whom we hope to continue having a strong partnership with into the future. I would also like to honour our current board directors who give up their time and expertise so generously to the conservation of our seabirds, our staff who work so diligently and with such compassion and of course our volunteers, without whom we would not be able to function. I honour you all.

The past year has been another landmark year for SANCCOB with the opening of the new purpose built and water efficient Seabird Hospital on 14 November 2018. This new facility includes two surgical theatres, a digital X-ray unit, a laboratory to aid in diagnosis, two Intensive Care Units (ICU), three new rehabilitation pools and 13 new rehabilitation pens. Over the past 15 months under review from 1 January 2018 to 31 March 2019, we admitted 2,398 seabirds of which 398 were abandoned penguin chicks and eggs, and achieved an 86% release rate. We also ramped up our contribution to the in-colony support to seabirds through the appointment of a new Penguin and Seabird Ranger on Robben Island in August, bringing the total to seven SANCCOB conservation staff in seabird colonies in the Western Cape.

It’s important to remember however, that we celebrate these successes against a backdrop that provides a stark reminder of the context our seabirds find themselves in. The story they tell and the hardships they face should be a reminder to us of the extent to which we are messing with our life support system. Nature provides the food we eat, the water we drink, it keeps our air breathable and the climate habitable.

Seabirds are well-established indicators of the health of the environment and the decreasing trend in their status should set off warning bells for us. This year we have witnessed the impact of poor food availability on breeding success of the African Penguins, placing increased urgency to lobby for their conservation. We experienced the impact of the Avian Influenza outbreak in the Boulders’ colony and we saw hundreds of rescued Lesser flamingo chicks from Kamfers Dam in Kimberley due to the drought, needing life-saving rehabilitation.

Our task remains huge, but when I look around the organisation I see ordinary people doing extraordinary things. I see passion, determination, integrity, expertise, optimism and the list goes on. So I am hopeful for the future and look forward to doing great things together in 2020!

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
Chief Operating 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
Head of Communications & Individual Giving
Melissa Cadman
Chick Rearing Unit Supervisor
Hedwich Tulp
Relationship Manager
Sibongile George
Rehabilitation Assistant
Sharnay Adams
Education Supervisor
Reene Nagessur
Zamokuhle Lazola
Rehabilitation Assistant PE
Alex Rogers
Xola Tsewu
Marketing & Fundraising Coordinator (PE)
Gavin Peterson
Penguin & Seabird Ranger (Stony Point)
Eduard Droste
Seabird Ranger (Bird Island)
Angela Wilmot
Volunteer Coordinator
Peter van der Linde
Bird Rehabilitator
Dr David Roberts
Clinical Veterinarian
Albert Snyman
Michelle Brackenridge
Administrator (PE)
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
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