SANCCOB is involved in numerous marine conservation projects, many of them in collaboration with our partners in conservation, locally and internationally. All our projects strive to contribute towards healthy, wild seabird populations through rehabilitation and research, and by raising awareness of marine life and the environment it depends on.
RESCUE AND REHABILITATION
ick and injured seabirds are either collected by SANCCOB staff following notifications from the public … or brought directly to one of our Centres by a member of the public. We also work with SANParks, CapeNature and Robben Island Museum Colony Managers who monitor established seabird nesting sites and identify abandoned chicks and eggs. In emergency situations, such as a major oil spill, our 24 hour rescue service is augmented by teams of trained volunteers.
Once admitted to one of our centres, staff stabilise, diagnose and treat the bird. Diagnostic tools include clinical examination, clinical chemistry, haematology, radiography, endoscopy and various other tests. Our Cape Town centre has an operating theatre with an X-ray facility, suction unit and anaesthetic machine, whilst the Eastern Cape centre makes use of an external veterinary practice. We are able to treat a wide variety of cases, including lung and air sac infections, fractured limbs, lacerations, bite wounds, eye problems and systemic diseases.
Both centres are well equipped with an admissions room, intensive care unit (ICU) for severely sick birds, pen areas to accommodate birds that are progressing well through the rehabilitation process, non-releasable bird area, exercise pools, food preparation and aviary pens, post-mortem room, surgery and washing area for oiled birds.
The rehabilitation process is largely dependent on the individual bird and its diagnosis; but generally follows a specific feeding, swimming, medication and treatment schedule for each seabird patient. Depending on the nature of injury, or illness, birds usually spend between 4-16 weeks undergoing rehabilitation before being released back into the wild. During their rehabilitation, staff evaluate the birds weekly on their health, blood results, weight and the waterproofing on their feathers. Prior to release, each penguin receives an implanted transponder which is injected under their skin and is used for research and monitoring purposes post-release. African penguins that meet SANCCOB’s criteria are released weekly into an existing colony, where our volunteers usually get the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of their labour and send the birds back where they belong.
In the case of a mortality or death on arrival, a post-mortem is performed to assess cause of death, to further disease-related studies and to gain understanding of causes of mortality in the wild.
This multi-partner project contributes towards saving the endangered African penguin, through hand-rearing abandoned and weak chicks, and rearing chicks from eggs. In addition, it forms a critical part of the African penguin Biodiversity Management Plan, which sets out the South African conservation strategy for the species. The hand-rearing of orphaned chicks has been identified as an essential and successful component of bolstering the wild population.
Since the project’s inception in 2006, SANCCOB has successfully released more than 7,000 chicks back into the wild. Independent research confirms that the survival rates for these hand-reared African penguins are similar to that of naturally-reared birds, making it an effective conservation intervention.
As an ongoing initiative, the Chick Bolstering Project has several fundable components, including costs associated with rescuing and rearing chicks during periods of mass abandonment.
The five primary African penguin breeding colonies in the Western Cape are Dassen Island, Robben Island, Boulders Beach, Stony Point and Dyer Island. Of these, the African penguin colony at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay is the only colony that has shown measurable signs of increase in the last decade, and currently supports more pairs of African penguins than any of the three coastal islands in the Western Cape, which were traditional ‘strongholds’ of African penguins and other breeding seabirds. The colony at Stony Point is thus of national, as well as international conservation significance for the species.
The Stony Point Penguin Ranger Project benefits endangered African penguins by taking direct, rehabilitation-focused, conservation action to bolster the wild population. The intervention forms part of the Biodiversity Management Plan for African penguins (BMP) which sets out the South African conservation strategy for the species. The BMP is gazetted at government level to ensure that the species is holistically managed and steps put in place to mitigate threats to the survival of the species.
The objectives of the project are to:
- Assist CapeNature with day to day management of the colony, including breeding success studies, nest counts, moult counts, long-term monitoring
- Rescue ill, injured, oiled and abandoned African penguins and penguin eggs and ensure that they are admitted to SANCCOB efficiently.
- Rehabilitate rescued penguins and eggs for release back into the colony
- Provide healthy and safe breeding grounds for penguin
- Rehabilitate the natural habitat.
- Train and develop staff and Penguin Rangers
Penguin and Seabird Rangers play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation chain of African penguins. They receive a two-week seabird handling and feeding course (in addition to the regular ranger training offered by CapeNature) and are sponsored through SANCCOB’s fundraising efforts.
They carry out key activities and duties such as:
- Rescuing injured, oiled or abandoned penguins and eggs
- Maintaining penguin-proof barriers, infrastructure, equipment and the natural vegetation at the colonies
- Managing local and international tourists to the area
- Monitoring, data collection, penguin protection, penguin sweeps and penguin relocation
- Assist with penguin rehabilitation by applying basic animal husbandry and first aid (as trained by SANCCOB and CapeNature)
- Record all penguins released by SANCCOB at Stony Point
Project partners: SANCCOB and CapeNature
The Bank Cormorant is listed as Endangered on the IUCN red list and currently there are only about 150 breeding pairs left in South Africa (DEA unpubl. Data 2016). More than 80% of the world’s population breeds on one single island in Namibia, Mercury Island. Current threats to the species include lack of food because in South Africa, Bank Cormorants feed almost exclusively on Rock Lobster, which has recently been listed as Red on the WWF SASSI list. Other threats include storms and heat events that reduce breeding success and human disturbance at breeding sites.
SANCCOB has been involved with a variety of projects to save the Bank Cormorant from extinction over the last decade. A hand-rearing project was initiated but the species has proven to be difficult as birds imprint on humans and are difficult to release back into the wild. However, SANCCOB’s strength in this regard will be its experience in hand-rearing seabirds, which will be vital in the project’s success.
SANCCOB is also leading the Bank Cormorant Working Group, a group of NGOs, researchers, government institutions and conservation authorities, working on a Species Action Plan to align the efforts to save the species from extinction.
The only two colonies in South Africa with more than 50 breeding pairs of Bank Cormorants are Robben Island and Stony Point in Betty’s Bay.
In both colonies, SANCCOB is funding seabird and penguin rangers that assist the managing conservation authorities with rescuing injured and weak birds, monitor breeding success and try to reduce human disturbance through educating the public and local communities. These efforts are not limited to the African Penguin but extend to threatened and important species such as the Bank Cormorant, Cape Cormorant, African Black Oystercatcher and others.
SANCCOB’s Rehabilitation and Veterinary teams also treats injured Bank Cormorants but due to the low numbers in South Africa, only few birds are admitted to SANCCOB annually.
SANCCOB’s Research Department conducts disease research involving Bank Cormorants and collaborates closely with researchers in Namibia on how best to protect the species in the main breeding colonies.
Whilst the established African penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town falls under the protection of SANParks, right next door there is a group of penguins breeding on unprotected public land. The Burgher’s Walk Restoration Project is a coordinated plan to protect these birds from curious members of the public, dogs and other domestic animals, and from being run over by cars travelling along the road above the site.
The objectives of the project are to:
- Rescue ill, injured, oiled and abandoned African penguins and penguin eggs and ensure that they are admitted to SANCCOB efficiently
- Rehabilitate rescued penguins and eggs for release back into the colony
- Provide healthy and safe breeding grounds for penguins
- Rehabilitate the natural habitat (Strandveld and Coastal thicket – where heavy winter rains, storm water damage and trampling caused severe degradation
- Train and develop staff, as well as Seabird and Penguin Rangers
Penguin and Seabird Rangers are a key component of the project and play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation chain of African penguins. The project currently employs four Penguin Rangers, many of whom are from under-resourced backgrounds. They receive a two-week seabird-handling and feeding training course at SANCCOB (in addition to the regular ranger training offered by SANParks) and are sponsored through SANCCOB’s fundraising efforts.
Funding goes towards the management of the terrain, the rehabilitation of penguins at SANCCOB, the salaries of four rangers, and the upkeep of the fencing and path.
In an ever-changing curriculum environment and with many South African schools being poorly equipped to present environmental education lessons, there are many learners leaving the school system without being introduced or exposed to environmental themes.
The annual library environmental education programme, targeted at 15 select libraries in previously disadvantaged communities in the Western Cape, aims to educate learners in their formative years about seabirds and the marine environment through educational lessons, arts-and-crafts and storytelling.
The objective is to reach out to more than 600 learners (of which at least 75% are black) and to introduce learners to important concepts such as:
- The marine environment
- Various seabird species
- What it means to reduce, reuse and recycle
- The impact of littering
Fifteen libraries located in poorly resourced communities are visited during the annual school holidays, and promotional material is sent out in advance to ensure that people are aware of the upcoming programme. An average of 40 to 50 learners and members of the public visit each library.
Over the last three years SANCCOB has been working with Special Education Needs Schools (LSEN schools).
Our aim is to fill the environmental educational gap in previously disadvantaged LSEN schools by providing an outdoor educational fieldtrip for five LSEN schools in disadvantaged areas in the Western Cape and to reach out to approximately 500 LSEN students and 40 educators working with LSEN. The day trip includes:
- a visit to SANCCOB’s seabird centre in Cape Town
- meeting an ambassador penguin
- a guided bird-watching excursion to the Rietvlei Nature Reserve (situated next to SANCCOB).
The lessons place emphasis on scientific exploration of the environment and show learners what maths and science can do to improve the state of the environment. The long-term goal is to:
- inspire teachers to develop their own environmental education lesson plans;
- inspire learners to pursue a career in science or in the environmental or conservation sector;
- make seabirds more accessible to previously disadvantaged learners.
The health and pathology research conducted at SANCCOB is ongoing and involves not only birds that are being treated at SANCCOB but also carcasses found in the colonies.
A large number of publications have been published by Dr Nola Parsons (former SANCCOB Research Manager) and collaborators on blood parasites, indicators for rehabilitation success in juvenile and adult African penguins and on general health parameters of penguins in the wild.
Disease and health work is being continued by the Research Team (Dr Katta Ludynia and Albert Snyman) together with the organisation’s veterinarian, Dr David G Roberts. Special attention is given to ectoparasite loads of birds admitted to SANCCOB, identification of predators especially in victims from land-based colonies and general health assessments on wild and rehabilitated birds.
As a continuation of the previously conducted health survey and due to the recent occurrence of H5N8 Avian Influenza in South African seabirds, the SANCCOB team will focus its efforts on testing for a variety of diseases in different, mostly endangered, seabird species. This will allow a better understanding on baseline prevalence of diseases in the wild populations and allow a quick detection of any outbreak. Thanks to a grant from the Rupert Nature Foundation, SANCCOB will regularly test for diseases and continue its research in disease prevalence and health assessments in South African seabirds.
SANCCOB’s disease research and risk assessment has been an important part of the first Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for the African penguin and we will continue our efforts during the next stage of the BMP.