American Zoos & Aquarium facilities have joined forces to develop various projects, from improving disaster response protocols for oil spills to constructing artificial nests to address population declines caused by overfishing, habitat degradation, and oil spills. AZA member organisations are working together and alongside their partners to help Save Animals From Extinction (SAFE).

The goal of the SAFE African Penguin program is to halt the decline of the species using a multi-faceted approach with projects that address the major issues threatening its extinction. Much of the Program’s work so far has been done in South Africa, where there is easier access to the colonies than Namibia’s remote island breeding colonies.

Since 2016, the SAFE African Penguin disaster response project has assisted with implementing national and colony specific wildlife disaster response plans in South Africa, provided equipment to aid in the capture and stabilisation of endangered penguins, and rehabilitation equipment to be stored in key strategic locations. The work plan includes developing training curriculums and facilitating the training of key first responders in safety, wildlife handling, capture, hazing techniques, and stabilisation of African penguins before transportation to SANCCOB. Post spill research, including long term health effects, breeding and life expectancy of oiled penguins is also included in the work plan.

AZA SAFE African penguin SAFE programme (Transponder)

AZA institutions choose to support the African penguin projects by providing valuable funding towards the work taking place in South Africa and Namibia.

SANCCOB conducts a diverse array of studies using individually recognisable (transpondered) penguins including long-term survival, movements of juveniles away from their natal sites, juvenile recruitment into the breeding population and selection of first-time breeding sites. An important milestone in the transponder project was reached in early 2021 when a combined transponder ground reader and weighbridge system was successfully installed on St Croix Island, previously world’s largest colony, situated in Algoa Bay. This project is a collaboration involving SANCCOB, BirdLife South Africa and the University of Cape Town, which aims to install automated monitoring systems at important African penguin breeding colonies. The systems, which transmit data almost in real time, can provide information on the availability of food around the colonies by comparing the time that adult penguins spend foraging at sea with their weight gain (or loss) as an indicator of the amount of food provided to their chicks. Ideally, this information would be used to limit fishing around colonies in times of limited food availability.