Since the project’s inception in 2006 following a mass abandonment incident, conservation authorities made the decision to rescue chicks to be artificially hand reared at SANCCOB. Since then, SANCCOB has received abandoned penguin chicks annually which prompted the need for a specialised Chick Rearing Unit in 2011. This facility is based at SANCCOB Cape Town and includes artificial incubators for eggs, hatchling incubators and dedicated equipment for hand-rearing penguin and other seabird chicks.
Key Partnerships to Make an Impact
Through SANCCOB’s African Penguin and Seabird Ranger project, together with the conservation authorities, seabird nests are closely monitored, and interventions are made when it is clear that parents have abandoned their eggs and/or chicks. Abandonment occurs only at some colonies where chicks are abandoned when adults start moulting and are unable to go to sea and provision for their chicks. A lack of food also causes abandonment, whereby breeding penguins abandon their offspring to ensure their own survival. Extreme weather events such as very hot weather, or high rainfall threaten nest sites, causing parents to abandon their chicks and/or eggs. Colonies located in urban environments, such as the Simon’s Town seabird colonies experience challenges with adult penguins laying eggs in unsafe areas, such as car parks or gardens. SANCCOB’s Rangers rescue these eggs and transport them to SANCCOB for artificial incubation, whilst the parents are translocated back inside the colony.
SANCCOB’s partnerships with conservation management authorities is key to this project. Penguin and Seabird Rangers attend specialised training at SANCCOB, which includes the safe collection and handling of abandoned African penguin eggs and chicks, and correct transportation methods. Eggs and chicks are extremely vulnerable and improper handling or transportation can result in injury or death.
The Chick Rearing Unit utilises dedicated skilled staff, complemented by a popular internship programme who work early morning and late-night shifts to ensure the chicks are cared for round the clock. Hatchlings require feeds every three hours and behaviour and temperature are monitored closely. This Unit is equipped with specialised egg incubators designed to incubate eggs at an ideal temperature and humidity, mimicking what penguin parents would do in natural circumstances. A procedure called ‘candling’ the eggs involves shining a bright light against the eggshell to determine the viability of the embryo and how far the embryo has developed. The process from egg hatching to release can usually takes three to four months. SANCCOB has successfully released almost 8,000 African penguin chicks back into the wild and to date, more than 1,000 African penguin eggs have been rescued and admitted to SANCCOB.
African Penguins Released
African Penguin Eggs Rescued
African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan
The Chick Bolstering Project forms a critical part of the African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan (AP-BMP), 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.
Donate To This Cause
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.