Juvenile Cape cormorants, hand-reared at SANCCOB after a mass abandonment and large scale rescue mission in January 2021 from Robben and Jutten islands, have been spotted all along the Western Cape coast since released.
Over 1,000 Cape cormorant chicks have successfully been hand-reared at our Cape Town centre in Table View, cared for by the dedicated SANCCOB staff with the help of hundreds of volunteers and are now being released in batches back into the wild. 335 cormorants remain at the centre and are in their final stages of rehabilitation. Weekly releases will continue to be carried out on Robben Island through the month of May, supported by the Two Oceans Aquarium, who transport birds to the Island.
Prior to release, SANCCOB ensures these birds are in optimal condition to re-enter the wild, which includes weight criteria, feather waterproofing, health checks and the individual marking of birds. Each bird is ringed with a metal band with an individual number. In addition, most birds are also ringed with more visible colour rings, also with individual numbering which allows them to be more easily spotted by the public. Thanks to these colour rings, there has been a number of resighting notifications of live and dead birds from as far as Saldanha Bay, north of Cape Town, to Struisbaai, east of Cape Agulhas.
According to Dr Katta Ludynia, SANCCOB’s Research Manager, this shows that the birds have integrated into the wild population and have joined other Cape cormorants following the fish stocks along our coast. Cape cormorants can travel large distances, following fish schools into bays and coastal areas to feed in large flocks that can often be seen from the coast. Being informed of sightings is hugely beneficial to SANCCOB’s post-release monitoring, especially when people can identify ring numbers with spotting scopes or binoculars and will allow us to assess the success of this conservation intervention. Ring resighting can be reported to SAFRING and SANCCOB at +27 21 557 6155 or email email@example.com.
Unfortunately, the first few months at sea are the most difficult for many seabirds, considering the relatively low fish availability in our waters. Both wild-reared and hand-reared birds have a comparatively high mortality rate in the first few months.
“As with most seabirds, young Cape cormorants are not taught by their parents how to find fish in the ocean, thus both SANCCOB’s hand-reared birds as well as wild birds reared by their parents are ‘thrown in the deep end’ when leaving their nest sites, or in this case the rehabilitation centre,” says Ludynia. However, cormorant parents sometimes still feed their young for a period after fledging to make sure they have enough reserves to survive in the wild. SANCCOB has therefore adopted a “soft release” approach where supplementary feeds are made available to the birds at the release site on Robben Island after they are set free, and birds often make use of it for several days before integrating into the wild population.
The entire operation over the past three months was supported by financial and in-kind donations from local and international individuals, corporates, small and medium enterprises, trusts and foundations, and international zoos and aquaria – thank you to all who have contributed to the conservation efforts of endangered Cape cormorants. Local volunteers have signed up daily to support the rehabilitation and provided the help needed to keep centre operations running smoothly. To volunteer or support SANCCOB call 021 557 6155.