Quarterly Report – 2019 1st Quarter
January News – Lesser Flamingo chicks
SANCCOB admitted 560 Lesser flamingo chicks on 28 January 2019, due to being abandoned by their parent birds during a drought situation affecting Kamfers Dam. SANCCOB was not part of the rescue, but was contacted to assist with the hand rearing of the chicks. The chicks arrived in very poor condition and dehydrated; some chicks did not make the journey and were dead on arrival.
This was a first occurrence for SANCCOB; we have never hand-reared flamingo chicks before so there were a lot of unknowns. We put out a call for support to our US contacts for keepers with flamingo experience to come and help us; but processes and approvals took time for this to happen. It was intense; birds were becoming sick and were not responding to antibiotics and eventually many died. 91 birds survived and were safely transported back to Kamfers Dam. The full story can be read at https://sanccob.co.za/flamingos-return-to-kamfers-dam/
A relatively large number of Cape Gannets were admitted, mostly juveniles with injuries and/or emaciated. Three chicks were admitted from Lambert’s Bay, one has already been released, one is still at the centre and the third died.
A white-chinned petrel, Leach’s storm petrel and a parasitic jaeger were all admitted in March and all three have been successfully released from boats one to two weeks after admission.
Veterinary Procedures and Team
January to April of 2019 continued to be busy for the veterinary department. A total of 101 surgical procedures were performed and 162 X-Rays were carried out. Doctors Esti de Wet and Elizabeth Howard will be working part-time at SANCCOB this year as part of their post-graduation compulsory community service year and they have quickly learned a lot about avian medicine and seabird rehabilitation. They have become valuable members of the team with both carrying out a large portion of the veterinary work while clinical veterinarian, Dr David Roberts, worked with the Lesser flamingo chicks.
Avian Influenza in Seabirds
In 2018 the H5N8 strain of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) caused unprecedented deaths in seabirds in South Africa. Swift terns were most severely affected but there were also mortalities of African Penguins, Cape cormorants, Cape Gannets and other species. Thankfully, there have been no further cases of H5N8 Avian Influenza in South Africa since May 2018.
Unfortunately, there has been a severe outbreak in African Penguins in Namibia. Since the beginning of 2019 more than 500 penguins have died from the virus. SANCCOB has been able to assist with advising the local stakeholders, including researchers, state vets and government officials, on outbreak response.
Avian veterinary training course
SANCCOB hosted a course in medicine, surgery and endoscopy for wild birds, run by Dr Niel Forbes – an avian veterinary specialist from the United Kingdom. It was attended by both local and international vets who are interested in the rehabilitation of birds.
Veterinary contribution to research
When an X-Ray was taken of an African Penguin with a limp we found that she had an egg. She also had other radio-opaque (bright white) material near the egg. At first, it was thought to be a second egg that had broken before it could be laid. We later discovered that this material was actually sea shells in her stomach. The X-ray image will be used in a paper that has been submitted for publication: ‘Seashell and debris ingestion by African penguins’ in the journal Emu – Austral Ornithology.
Robben Island Museum (RIM)
SANCCOB Seabird Ranger, Andile Mdluli, has settled into his role within the Environmental Unit at Robben Island Museum. He regularly assists other stakeholders, such as the Department of Environmental Affairs with population census counts, researchers and the EarthWatch teams.
- Rooikrans constitutes a major component of the Island’s vegetation and RIM has taken a stance to aggressively clear vegetation around built structures and other cultural landscapes. Research is currently underway to inform planting of more than 12,000 indigenous trees that would meet the African Penguins’ breeding requirements and ensure that the site’s heritage landscape remains intact. Andile’s presence is an integral part of this team; he advises where penguin nests are located to avoid disturbance whilst also gathering GPS coordinates of nests to produce a nest distribution map that to assist the Environmental Unit in making decisive decisions when dealing with alien clearing, which will not result in the disturbance of penguins.
- Temporary fencing has been mounted around the breeding site to prevent chicks from crossing over the road and avoid speeding vehicles. Earthwatch is continuing with its research activities and encourage breeding success of the African penguins; these activities will be conducted in teams throughout the season. Furthermore, Dr Nola Parsons has also commenced with the transponder project on Robben Island.
- RIM’s Environmental Unit partnered with the South African Scouts Association to conduct three projects on site. Andile supervised the twenty scouts who arrived on 29 March to carry out the temporary fencing of stock piles opposite the vicinity of Maximum Security Prison, the application of herbicides along the airstrip and a coastal clean-up. Temporary shade cloth and a fence were mounted around each stock pile and a 60cm trench was dug to prevent penguins from burrowing and nesting inside the piles. The heaps were thoroughly checked for any signs of guano or footprints of birds nesting underneath before they were fenced. Thereafter, the monitoring of the stock piles was conducted twice a day, in the early morning when the birds go out foraging and late afternoon to ensure there are no penguins trapped inside the piles.
- Robben Island is prone to different marine pollution due to its geographical positioning. Plastics, abandoned fishing gear and other pollution are among the biggest environmental threats. Marine debris is a major threat to marine animals i.e. seals, fish and seabirds. The scouts assisted with the coastal clean-up along the shoreline and approximately 30 bags of rubbish was collected and transported to Robben Island’s Sorting Facility.
Breeding has started in the Simon’s Town colony and a number of eggs and chicks were brought to SANCCOB to be hand-reared as they were either abandoned by their parent birds or nested in unsafe areas. The Penguin Monitors continue to monitor for any caracal predation as there seem to be a frequent flow of caracals from Table Mountain that have killed several hundred African penguins in the last two years.
Sadly, our much valued Penguin Ranger in Stony Point, Marcelo October, passed away in February 2019. He is dearly missed by the entire CapeNature Team at Stony Point and by SANCCOB. We are currently in the process of recruiting a new Penguin Ranger to continue the assistance to CapeNature at Stony Point.
- Two training sessions were run by the research, rehabilitation and veterinary teams for research and field assistants going to the Prince Edward Islands. One group was more interested in collecting samples from penguins and the other in working with other birds. SANCCOB also did a training day with Professor Darrell Abernethy on penguin handling and blood sample collection.
- Research Assistant, Albert Snyman, also spent two days on Dassen Island providing transponder training to two DEA field assistants on Marion Island.
- Romy Klusener and Dr Katta Ludynia conducted a workshop on egg and chick handling and safe transportation for the Penguin Monitors and SANParks Seabird Ranger in Simon’s Town in April. This workshop included a short presentation on the biology of African Penguins and the numbers of eggs and chicks rescued in the last few years from Simon’s Town.
- Katta also presented to the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Forum (NRF) in Pretoria on 29 April to motivate for SANCCOB to be listed as a recognised Research Institution by the NRF. Such recognition would facilitate grant applications and extended government funding in the future.
Seabird Transportation Workshop for Support Crew (Volunteer drivers)
The Rehabilitation Department conducted a workshop aimed at safe transportation of rescued seabirds. The workshop was attended by 13 people who regularly volunteer their time to collect (and sometimes rescue) seabirds. The workshop covered responsible driving, temperature requirements, scenarios such as trauma, spinal injuries, active bleeding, and included chicks and egg transportation. Each person was given a ‘How To’ booklet which provided in-depth information of the topics informed on.
- Over the course of three months, a total of 231 deaths were recorded from 22 different species. The leading cause of death was related to trauma or external injuries (n: 90), systemic infections (n: 37), and general debilitation (n: 33). The high number of trauma associated injuries is directly related to a number of Kelp gulls and Hartlaub’s gulls that were admitted due to wing or leg injuries that resulted in euthanasia on admission.
- One Sub Antarctic Skua was euthanized due to a severe fishing hook injury. The fishing hook punctured the esophagus and the individual was euthanized as the hook could not be removed without causing further injury. Furthermore, two Swift terns were also euthanized due to very similar injuries.
- A Hartlaub’s gull was euthanized due to a wing injury and upon post mortem it was found that this individual was actually shot with a pellet gun as a small lead bullet was found imbedded in the keel muscle of the bird.
- On 1 April SANCCOB received notification of a large number of dead birds washed ashore along the Duynefontein coast line. SANCCOB responded and collected a total of 8 Cape cormorants, one Kelp gull and one Cape gannet for further post mortem analysis. Post mortem findings were very similar to two separate incidences that occurred in April and November 2018, where strange stab wounds were found around the head of Cape Cormorants. All birds were in good condition with adequate fat recorded on all individuals, as well as stomachs full of fish. It is suspected that these injuries were fishing related, but the exact way these birds were killed by suspected fishermen is still open for debate.
- Research assistant Albert Snyman recently co-authored a manuscript that was published in Biodiversity Observations on the First breeding record of Pintado petrel (Daption capensis) at Marion Island. Currently, Albert is collecting various seabird heads for examining anatomical markers associated with low frequency hearing specialisations for Dr Jeff Zeyl, a Post-doctoral researcher at Stellenbosch University. Furthermore, Albert has also collected African penguin carcasses in order to build silicone casts of the vocal tracts of penguin cadavers. A French-Italian team of researchers from the University of Lyon (France) visited SANCCOB in April to take silicone molds of the breathing and vocal tracts of African penguins in order to better understand the way penguins produce sounds and communicate.
- Faecal samples from African penguins undergoing rehabilitation were collected by Albert and sent to the National Zoological Gardens in Pretoria to be used in a study on stress hormones.
- Samples from pox in the Lesser flamingos hand-reared at SANCCOB were taken for scientists at UCT who have been involved in pox research with SANCCOB previously. The genetic analysis of these samples could show that the pox virus found in the flamingos is the same that was previously identified at Kamfers Dam, the origin of the flamingo chicks and was thus not transmitted at SANCCOB from other birds or from pigeons suffering from pox in the Western Cape.
After the ban on transponder work in the wild in 2018, due to the presence of Avian Influenza in the seabird colonies, the DEA has recently granted the permission to once again transponder African penguins in the wild. Albert Snyman has commenced transpondering birds on Dassen Island during his trip to train Marion Island staff, and Dr Nola Parsons has commenced the transponder work on Robben Island during the EarthWatch Project.
- All penguins being released from SANCCOB are transpondered as are birds released from other rehabilitation facilities. We recently had a recapture of a bird that was moulting from its juvenile plumage into adult plumage, found in St Helena Bay. This bird was released at Plettenberg Bay last year after undergoing rehabilitation at Tenikwa. We also had a recapture of a bird that was previously treated at SANCCOB, and being able to identify the bird allowed the veterinary team to check on previous treatments and diagnosis.
- Ground readers were successfully installed on Dyer Island recently and there are now ground readers on Robben Island, Boulders, Stony Point and Dyer Island, as well as Bird Island in the Eastern Cape. One of the readers at Stony Point, and one that is about to be set up on St Croix, are being directly linked to a weigh bridge. We will therefore be able to identify a bird crossing the reader and we will also know its weight when leaving and returning to the colony, thus able to get an idea of food availability and provisioning to the chicks. This project is being conducted in collaboration with Alistair McInnes from the Nelson Mandela University and electrical engineers from the University of Cape Town.
Chick Bolstering Project
In 2018, fewer eggs were admitted than in previous years, which is mostly due to a) the historically low number of breeding pairs of African Penguins and b) the ban of colony work and limited colony access due to Avian Influenza.
- The release rate of incubated eggs in 2018 was below the previous years with only 62% released as chicks. In 2016, the release rate was at 87%, the highest ever achieved by the CRU team. In 2019, 44 eggs have been admitted as at the end of April, of which 21 have already successfully hatched.
- Between 2006 and 2018, 8145 chicks have been admitted to SANCCOB as part of the Chick Bolstering Project. Of these, 5743 have been successfully released, with an overall release rate of 78%.
- In 2019, 45 chicks have been admitted until the end of April, of which 5 have been successfully released already, 40 are currently being raised in the CRU and in the centre in Table View.
OILED WILDLIFE PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE
SANCCOB has continued to play an important role in the Incident Management Organisation (IMOrg) (Operation Phakisa) meetings in January, February and March. Volumes 1 and 2 of South Africa’s new ‘National Oil Spill Contingency Plan’ have now been agreed upon. Volume 2 includes an Environmental Response and Monitoring section, which will annex the ‘National Oiled Wildlife Preparedness & Response Contingency Plan’. In addition, SANCCOB has also attended Small Working Teams to provide assistance with the following documents:
- National Oil Spill Contingency Plan
- IMOrg Multi-party Agreement
- Mutual Aid Agreement Template
- Disaster Response Import Procedure
SAFE Disaster Relief Project
SANCCOB continues to act as SA Coordinator for the SAFE Disaster Relief Project. Jess Phillips (Maryland Zoo and US SAFE Coordinator) travelled to Cape Town to travel to Namibia with SANCCOB’s Preparedness and Response Manager and Research Manager in October 2018.
Since January the focus has very much been on the Avian Influenza outbreak in Namibia with over 500 African Penguins having been affected on Halifax Island. SAFE sent US$3000 to Namibian rehabilitation centres to respond to the outbreak, as well as additional funding to enable SANCCOB’s veterinarian to assist the authorities in Namibia.
In the meantime, SANCCOB has continued to purchase additional designated oiled wildlife response equipment to be stockpiled at SANCCOB Port Elizabeth.
Global Oiled Wildlife Response System
SANCCOB representatives travelled to California in March 2019 to attend the GOWRS in-person meeting hosted by the Oiled Wildlife Care Network (OWCN) at University of California, Davis in the USA. The week started with Project Partner Presentations followed by a table-top exercise to identify existing “elephants in the room” such as the objectives of international response, contracting & liability, the Role of Sea Alarm, the Role and composition of network and decision making in response
The week long meeting concluded with the Steering Group meeting where all organisations agreed and signed the ‘Collaboration Agreement’ to create ‘The Network’. During SANCCOB’s visit, OWCN hosted a lunch at their UC Davis Disaster Response storage unit and International Bird Rescue invited us to their Cordelia Rehabilitation centre. SANCCOB also had the opportunity to visit the Marine Mammal Centre and California Academy of Sciences / Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.
Offshore Ship-to-Ship Bunkering in Algoa Bay
SANCCOB is continuing to engage with both government and industry with regard to the continued offshore ship-to-ship bunkering occurring in Algoa Bay. SAMSA has confirmed that a third operator (a joint venture between Colt Marine / Trafigura & Subtech / Fendercare) is now conducting ship-to-ship bunkering operations in Algoa Bay. A fourth operator (AMSOL) is also being considered by SAMSA and TNPA. SANCCOB has met with both new operators to voice concerns about environmental protection and to make recommendations with regard to mitigation measures that should be put in place.
SAMSA convened a Bunkering Stakeholder meeting in late 2018 and again in January 2019 to which SANCCOB was invited. It was agreed that a Bunkering Environmental Working Group (BEWG) be created as a sub-committee to the Bunkering Stakeholder Meeting. The first BEWG was held on Monday, 8 April, the day before the Bunkering Stakeholder meeting. It has now been confirmed at the Bunkering Stakeholder meeting that South Africa’s principal tug vessel (SA AMANDLA) is going to be stationed in Algoa Bay, instead of Cape Town, meaning SAMSA will allow larger vessels to perform bunkering operations in the bay.
Oiled Wildlife Preparedness and Response Consultancy Projects
SANCCOB was contracted to TOTAL SA to be on stand-by during an oil exploration around 180nm off Mossel Bay on a retainer agreement. SANCCOB has also been approached by OSRL to provide proposals as a subcontractor for a number of oiled wildlife preparedness consultancy projects.
More locally in Table View, Astron Energy (formerly Chevron) has requested assistance from SANCCOB with nesting Cape Cormorants on Tanker Basin 1 and 2 in Cape Town Harbour. The pipeline that transfers oil is being moved from above the sea to above the ground. It is hoped that moving the pipeline above ground will minimise any potential environmental impact from a spill.
SANCCOB has also been working with some of the offshore Ship-to-Ship Bunkering operators to ensure that appropriate mitigation measures are put in place to deal with a potential oil spill affecting seabirds and other wildlife in the Algoa Bay area.
WILDOCEANS MPA Youth Group
SANCCOB was invited to attend a Marine Protected Area Youth Group set-up by WILDOCEANS. The event was hosted at the Shark Research Centre in Kalk Bay and involved a number of lectures given by experts in the field, followed by a workshop on how to engage with a variety of stakeholders including government, industry and local community members.
- For the year thus far, we have seen 1446 visitors for tours at the centre; 562 more than in the 2016 period, after which the department was closed in 2017 during construction of the new seabird hospital.
- In the four months of 2019, SANCCOB has have had on average six seabird interns scheduled to work per day, which is more than in previous years and during the month of April, a further eight interns were included in the programme.
- After the flamingo crisis, some of the flamingo volunteers have committed to remain volunteers at the centre and thus assisted to meet the capacity requirements for the facility operations.
- The education Department reconvened its activities in February, with its first lessons with Rand Merchant Bank Project schools. All seven schools cater to learners with special educational needs. During the first lesson, learners were introduced to SANCCOB’s conservation role and to the seabirds in our care. Further lessons are scheduled for the second school term.
- For our De Beers Marine Project school for learners mental disabilities, the Alpha School for learners with Autism was chosen as the project beneficiary.
On-site and off-site school visits
- For the period February 2019 to April 2019, we have facilitated 20 school visits that included over 200 learners. We have had a number of home school groups that visited the centre, which presents an interesting challenge for education staff to specially tailor lessons for varying ages.
- We were also able to host, for the first time, a Semester at Sea class. The class of 30 learners who are traveling across the sea from Hamburg to China over a full semester (105 days) visited our centre on 15 March and will visit 12 cities and be assessed on all the content discussed at all the organisations visited during their tour. The credits obtained will count towards their respective degrees. SANCCOB along with the Two Oceans Aquarium held lessons on marine life and conservation. We especially concentrated on the conservation work done with the seabirds at SANCCOB and how this affects the bigger marine life picture.
LEIDEN CONSERVATION FELLOW
Seabird colony support
SANCCOB worked with CapeNature ecological staff and Prof Peter Barham and Barbara Barham on seabird monitoring data for Dyer Island and Stony Point, aligning it to the systems used on Robben Island.
- The Leiden Conservation Foundation provided sponsorship to attend the AZA mid-year conference in Phoenix Arizona (15-18 April 2019). SANCCOB attended the African penguin SAFE programme session on Monday, 15 April, and on the afternoon of Thursday, 18 April, presented on the current status of the African Penguin and areas of critical funding needs.
- The Brandfontein surveys continue monthly, together with CapeNature. These are intended to assess baseline mortality rates along a stretch of coastline, particularly with the Cape Gannet mortality, given the concerning number of gannet deaths over the summer in 2018. Surveys were conducted on 10 January, 14 March and 18 April 2019. Albert Snyman confirmed that seals were responsible for the mortality in samples sent after the March survey which is concerning since managing this will be a challenge. The results of these surveys were presented at the Seabird Technical Team on 27 March.
Government and other liaison
Written comments on the draft second version of the African penguin BMP were provided to DEA. The National IUCN Members meeting was attended in February. The Small Pelagic Scientific Working Group was regularly attended and a document was co-authored with BirdLife as the lead, together with UCT and WWF-SA detailing our concerns regarding the low sardine biomass levels. The Seabird Technical Team Meeting was attended and a presentation on Brandfontein surveys provided. Lauren chaired the African penguin Habitat Working Group for the last time in April.
Lauren was a co-supervisor on Marcela Espinaze’s PhD study tiled ‘Establishing the effect of parasites on the health status, nesting behaviour and colony dynamics of African penguins’. Marcela graduated in April from Stellenbosch University.
In- kind donations for the rehabilitation of the Lesser Flamingo chicks
As a result of our external communications on social media and coverage in the traditional media, we received a high number of in-kind donations to aid us with the flamingo crisis. Donations were received from small and medium enterprises (SMEs), as well as individuals that included learners who fundraised for the chicks. The most frequent items donated were eggs, towels, Nestum cereal, black bags and washing powder. Most in-kind donations were received in February and included donations from Pick n Pay Foundation, the Spur Group (this includes Spur, Hussar Grill, Panarottis, Rocco Mamas and John Dory’s), Lasec (laboratory suppliers), Sun International, @Home and Pinnacle, and much needed generous donations of fish from Atlantis Foods Group and Blue Seas.
In March, we received the largest in-kind donations from individuals, which included long-term supporter, Marina Hall, collaborating with Reddam School to source in-kind donations. A donation of 125kg of flamingo food was also received from our supplier, AVI.
Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon
41 Half Marathon entries for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon (OMTOM) were sold at R2,000 each and yielded a profit over R50,000. Five participants undertook additional fundraising and amongst them was Romy Klusener, our very own CRU supervisor.
Third Party fundraising event
The Giving is Living auction, which chose SANCCOB as one of their charity art auction beneficiaries, took place on 16 March at the Atlantic Beach Club, Melkbosstrand. The auction raised a significant amount – R30 000.
Extensive media coverage during the flamingo crisis
There was extensive media coverage for the flamingo rescue and rehabilitation, and it contributed both to raising awareness on the status of the birds and appeals in print, online, local and international TV news and radio. International news services covering our efforts included The UK’s Guardian as well as CNN, BBC and Ruptly (an award-winning international news agency that provides real-time and archive visual news content to all media).
Cause-Related Marketing Campaigns
SANCCOB has existing partnerships with Spec-Savers and Boston Breweries and a new fundraising initiative with an Austrian Ski School – SPORT 2000 BRANDSTÄTTER & SKISCHULE PRO.
Pick n Pay Foundation continues to liaise with SANCCOB and offered to assist in the year ahead. A SANCCOB branded shopping bag is in production and R7 of each bag sold will be given to SANCCOB.
More supporter news
- Pamela Isdell visited SANCCOB on 18 February and kindly committed to gifting a generator so that SANCCOB’s ICU as well as other parts of the hospital can operate when the organisation experiences load shedding.
- The Resource Development team sent out a newly designed proposal to zoos and aquaria in the US and Europe, and together with the support of EEP-coordinator Alex Huiberse, SANCCOB already received two new annual commitments from two new Germany-based zoos and aquaria. SANCCOB also received pledges from various zoos and aquaria who have been loyal supporters for a number of years.
Eastern Cape Centre
- In February, juvenile Cape Gannets were being admitted, many of which were emaciated (presumably recent fledglings), weighing less than 1.5kg and unfortunately, there was a high mortality rate.
- In March, we experienced two malaria cases. One severe case that was cerebral was suspected to have Avian Influenza but tests were negative in this regard.
- African Penguin admissions in April were dominated by birds undergoing moult and six chicks were admitted from Bird Island. Cape Gannet admissions comprised of more weak juveniles.
- The plan for the SANCCOB PE rehabilitation pool has received municipal approval but due to cost estimates received, consideration is being given to downscaling the project. We are also trying to secure donations of any kind to help with the building of the pool.
Resource Development in PE
A variety of events took place from January to April, including beach clean-ups, Moon Walks, event exhibitions and Sunset walks to name a few. These events are extremely well supported by surrounding communities and enables SANCCOB PE to share awareness and fundraising opportunities with people and companies.
The auction was a great success and we had quite an impressive amount of auction lots. 65 guests attended and it was a great opportunity for networking and awareness as, and R78,000 profit was made.
- An X-ray and anaesthetic machine were donated by Dr Sim
- 200 boxes of Fish received from Blue Seas through the Flamingo donation appeal
- Oilskins, gloves and a nebuliser donated by Anja Renberg
- Power-Tek donated attachments for the hose on the Karcher high pressure cleaner
- SPAR donated R35,000
First National Bank and Nedbank has chosen SANCCOB PE as their charity to support to assist with fundraising initiatives and volunteers to assist at the facility.
On 23 April, a cell phone game was launched to promote awareness plastic waste impacts and other environmental issues. Nine school teams of 4 or 5 per team participated and after knock-out rounds, one winner received R2,500 in prize money and Ocean Basket vouchers. It was very well organised by Alexie Kalenga from SST. Professor Jean Greyling from NMU, also the inventor of the game, presented the prizes.
- The number of visitors to the centre, excluding school groups, for the year thus far is close to 4,000.
- Penguin Promises is an initiative started with visitors and school groups, where promises are made to help the environment and SANCCOB follows up monthly to find out how they have progressed. Already, one of the schools has started a recycling initiative that impacts the surrounding community.
- In February, March and April, SANCCOB PE has facilitated 1,668 learners visiting the centre for school lessons.