Namibian Seabird Conservation
SANCCOB continues to spread its wings across the geographical range of many endemic seabirds, such as the African penguin, by partnering with the Debmarine-Namdeb Foundation, Namibian Chamber of Environment, Namibia Nature Foundation, African Penguin Conservation Project and The Maryland Zoo, to form the Namibian Foundation for the Conservation of Birds (NAMCOB).
Namibia’s coastline is home to a wide diversity of wildlife, with many endemic seabird species. Seabirds are an integral element of biodiversity and serve as key indicators because they are visible and are top predators, of the state and health of the marine ecosystem. The Namibian Islands’ Marine Protected Area (NIMPA) was proclaimed in 2009, stretching 400 km along the southern Namibian coast, covering almost 10,000 km2 with a key objective to protect the breeding sites and main foraging areas of seabirds along Namibia’s coast. Unfortunately, a draft management plan has not yet been implemented, there is a lack of human capacity and insufficient funding in the marine conservation sector in Namibia, so the NIMPA is ineffective and not fulfilling its mission.
AZA SAFE African penguin SAFE programme
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities have joined forces to develop various projects, from improving disaster response protocols for oil spills to constructing artificial nests to address population declines caused by overfishing, habitat degradation, and oil spills. AZA member organisations are working together and alongside their partners to help Save Animals From Extinction (SAFE).
The goal of the SAFE African Penguin program is to halt the decline of the species using a multi-faceted approach with projects that address the major issues threatening its extinction. Much of the Program’s work so far has been done in South Africa, where there is easier access to the colonies than Namibia’s remote island breeding colonies.
Since 2016, the SAFE African Penguin disaster response project has assisted with implementing national and colony specific wildlife disaster response plans in South Africa, provided equipment to aid in the capture and stabilisation of endangered penguins, and rehabilitation equipment to be stored in key strategic locations. The work plan includes developing training curriculums and facilitating the training of key first responders in safety, wildlife handling, capture, hazing techniques, and stabilisation of African penguins before transportation to SANCCOB. Post spill research, including long term health effects, breeding and life expectancy of oiled penguins is also included in the work plan.
SAFE African penguin also funded response to the avian influenza outbreak in Namibia by paying for sampling, transportation of samples, and consulting with veterinary staff. Interacting with colleagues in Namibia increased awareness of the biological value of the Namibian population and the limited resources available there for monitoring or rescuing penguins and other seabirds.
De Hoop Penguin Colony
African penguins preferred prey, sardine has shifted their distribution, causing a mismatch between penguin breeding colonies and fish distribution. Most penguin colonies, which historically were the largest, are on the west coast of South Africa, while the fish have shifted south and eastwards onto the Agulhas Bank. There is a 600 km stretch of coastline between Dyer Island colony and the Algoa Bay colonies in Gqeberha where there are no colonies, and therefore no breeding penguins, which effectively splits the South African population in two.
BirdLife South Africa is attempting to establish a penguin colony, which will be protected from predators, on the south coast mainland at De Hoop Nature Reserve. The aim is to create resilience in the penguin population by increasing the number of colonies and bridge the gap between the west and east populations. SANCCOB are members of the project Steering Committee, providing technical input into the planning and logistics for the release of hand-reared African penguin chicks at the De Hoop site. Several releases of penguins have taken place since 2021; it is now a waiting game to test whether these individuals indeed imprinted on the release site and will therefore return to undergo moult and their first breeding season.
Following the recent installation of a ground reader to detect microchipped African penguins, five African penguins that were released as fledglings returned to the site. These birds are still too young to breed but might be seeking out potential breeding sites. Read more here.