Floods threaten survival of African penguins

The recent heavy rain has caused flooding of African penguin nests, resulting in parents abandoning their chicks. In the last two weeks, while there have been unfortunate fatalities, 147 penguin chicks have been successfully rescued and admitted to SANCCOB’s two centres, where they have received emergency stabilisation treatment and will undergo artificial hand-rearing, in the absence of their parents.

In the Eastern Cape, SANParks and SANCCOB’s Penguin & Seabird Rangers rescued 37 penguin chicks from Bird Island in Algoa Bay, that would have certainly died without this critical intervention. A yellow level 3 weather warning was issued for the Western Cape on 25 May; Robben Island Museum and SANCCOB worked tirelessly to find a vessel intended for extreme weather conditions and a crew willing to venture out to the Island and rescue seven abandoned penguins. It was wonderful to observe the phenomenal dedication from Offshore Maritime Services (OMS), where the crew launched a rescue operation at 18h00 that evening. OMS kindly coordinated with the Robben Island Museum Harbour Master and expertly collected and transported very cold and wet chicks to safety. Strong winds and rain persisted at the port where the SANCCOB team waited anxiously to receive this precious cargo to be driven to SANCCOB’s Seabird Hospital for admission to the specialised Chick Rearing Unit.

In the past few days, CapeNature and SANCCOB’s Penguin & Seabird Ranger based at the Stony Point penguin colony in Betty’s Bay braved the freezing cold and wet weather, to perform necessary monitoring of penguin nests that may have been impacted by the weather. Their dedicated efforts paid off when they found 97 penguin chicks had been abandoned – they were discovered in flooded nests, very wet and shivering, unable to regulate their body temperature. A SANCCOB team was deployed to the colony to ensure the chicks received the necessary emergency care, aimed at raising their body temperature and improving their hydration.

The value of the collaborative efforts between SANCCOB and the conservation management authorities cannot be underestimated. The rangers continue to demonstrate their commitment to saving a species that is experiencing a dangerous population decline. Despite challenges such as severe weather, the rangers perform their monitoring duties with diligence; leopard-crawling through dense vegetation, to locate those tricky nests and peek inside.

We are observing an increased number of abandoned penguins due to weather events, more so during the winter months, as the climate changes.  It is therefore expected that we will continue to experience these events in future, indicating the requirement to plan accordingly, and ensure that SANCCOB’s African Penguin and Seabird Ranger Project remains financially supported and sustainable…the penguins depend on them.