Seeking higher ground was not safe: 58 Crowned cormorant chicks at SANCCOB

On 26 November 2019, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) admitted 76 Crowned cormorant chicks that were displaced from their nests after tree felling in Lambert’s Bay on the West Coast. Sadly, 12 birds were euthanized on admission because of severe leg or wing injuries and suffered open fractures with bones penetrating the skin. Six chicks have since succumbed to injuries and 58 remain in SANCCOB’s care.

Important Note: Crowned cormorants are classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red Data List and are protected under the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (10/2004): Threatened or Protected Marine Species (ToPS) Regulations.

SANCCOB was informed on 25 November 2019 that a company had been contracted to cut down trees in Lambert’s Bay. As it is during their breeding season, these trees contained Crowned cormorant nests with chicks that were clearly visible. SANCCOB attempted to halt the plans to disturb the seabirds and importantly, a governmental permit should have been obtained to carry out such an activity. Unfortunately, the contractors started cutting down trees at 05h30 the next day and members of the public in the Lambert’s Bay area reached out to SANCCOB as they witnessed the tree felling, as well as the helpless chicks falling to the ground beneath them. A SANCCOB employee was immediately deployed to Lambert’s Bay but on arrival, the majority of the trees had already been cut down and some chicks had fallen to their death.

The admission of the 76 Crowned cormorant chicks to SANCCOB’s Table View centre in Cape Town was emotionally taxing to work through and witness. Specialised staff, headed by SANCCOB’s Clinical Veterinarian, Dr David Roberts, assessed and hydrated the rescued chicks. SANCCOB’s research department conducted complete post mortems on all carcasses and the findings revealed that the injuries caused to organs such as liver, kidneys, lungs and spleen and fractured bones were consistent with blunt force trauma, which would occur as a result of falling from trees or from branches as the chicks fell with a falling tree.

According to Nicky Stander, SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation Manager, “Fractured bones and damaged internal organs are both very painful conditions and chicks that suffered these injuries were in unnecessary, severe pain and distress. The surviving cormorant chicks were severely stressed by the event and may also have been injured without fracturing bones”.

The lack of a permit to fell trees with the knowledge that live seabirds inhabited these trees is a serious concern and SANCCOB has urged the relevant authorities to investigate this incident and take the appropriate action against those involved.