Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds

African penguin gets a second chance

Admitted to SANCCOB’s Table View centre on 24 May 2019 at 2.2kg from Lambert’s Bay, AP159 came in with wounds to its foot, right flipper and tail. Upon closer examination the tail wound proved to be a laceration across the entire left side of the tail, extending into the cloaca. The bird was immediately placed on a course of antibiotics and pain medication and kept in the seabird hospital’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for a week to be stabilised before any procedures were performed. SANCCOB Bird Rehabilitator, Jaimie Whyte, shared her account of the penguin’s rehabilitation and ultimate release.

The first procedure took place on 31 May, one week after admission. The small laceration on his flipper was sutured closed and the tail wound cleaned thoroughly. The veterinarian then closed the cloaca wounds and a drain was placed to flush the wound. After one week with the perineal drain in place it was evident that it was very effective at keeping the wound uninfected to maintain its healing process. The flipper wound healed well and a second procedure allowed for the stitches to be removed from the flipper, while the foot wounds were cleaned out and sutured. The third procedure at the seabird hospital was to remove the drain from the tail base wound and suture the wound in three layers to reduce the dead space caused by the injury. A month after admission, AP159 had a fourth and final procedure by the veterinarian, which entailed replacing sutures in the bird’s left foot and the last remaining unhealed part of the tail wound was debrided.

On 27 June, AP159 was moved into the rehabilitation pen to start preparation to be released to the wild again but this bird’s journey toward release approval was far from over. As part of the rehabilitation process, regular vet checks of each seabird patient is carried out to assess health, body conditioning and waterproofing of feathers. AP159 came up short; large patches of down was missing around the wound sites, which meant the bird was not  waterproof and would certainly not survive in the wild. A decision was made to temporarily move AP159 into SANCCOB’s Home Pen for resident birds, to allow an opportunity to moult in a less stressful environment, away from the busy rehabilitation pens where penguin patients are quickly moving through their recovery toward release. After moulting and growing his new down and waterproof plumage, AP159 was once again returned to the rehabilitation pens to start a more vigorous swim regime to regain its strength and fitness. Regular access to water to swim also encourages preening that in turn promotes improved waterproofing. This fighter was released at the Stony Point penguin colony on 31 October 2019, and waddled into the ocean as if the five months at SANCCOB was soon to be forgotten; of course, we are pleased to see another life saved and successfully released to where it belongs.

December 9, 2019

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