African penguin resightings at De Hoop Nature Reserve post-release

Following the recent installation of a ground reader to detect microchipped African penguins, five African penguins that were released as fledglings in 2021 at CapeNature’s De Hoop Nature Reserve after being hand-reared at SANCCOB, have now returned to the site. These birds are still too young to breed but might be seeking out potential breeding sites.

It is hoped that these former SANCCOB birds will choose to settle at the De Hoop colony in the coming years as some of the first birds to breed at the new colony (the first successful breeding pair was observed at De Hoop in 2022 and there are currently several pairs breeding). As part of a joint effort between BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and SANCCOB to establish an African penguin colony at the De Hoop Nature Reserve, SANCCOB has been releasing hand-reared penguin chicks at the site since 2021. Over 200 African penguin chicks that were rescued either as eggs or as chicks from other breeding colonies in the Western Cape have thus far been released at De Hoop after being successfully hand-reared at SANCCOB. Since African penguins only start breeding at three to six years of age, it was unexpected to see any of these birds back at De Hoop just yet.

But, as always, these birds keep on surprising us!

All birds released from SANCCOB and other rehabilitation centres in South Africa are equipped with Passive Integrated Transponders (microchips), which allows researchers to see how well they cope in the wild after being hand-reared or rehabilitated. In order to detect these birds (and birds transpondered in the wild colonies), ground readers are installed at all main colonies, including a recent installation at De Hoop, and within the first few weeks of the reader running at De Hoop, released birds have been detected.

These five birds have been identified as chicks that were rescued from two mainland colonies in early and mid-2021 due to extreme weather events, and were hand-reared at SANCCOB. Their return to De Hoop shows the value of these chick rescues in collaboration with our partners CapeNature, SANParks, City of Cape Town and Robben Island Museum, and the success of hand-rearing and releasing them back into the wild. Another bird detected at De Hoop is a bird that was rehabilitated at African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS), originally being from Dyer Island and we will monitor if this bird chooses to make De Hoop its home in coming years or if it was just curious of the new site.

A heartfelt thank you to all partners and funders, especially to Pamela Isdell who supports both SANCCOB and BirdLife South Africa in their work to save the African penguin from extinction. The transponder project is financially supported by the AZA SAFE programme.