SANCCOB’s seabird hospitals are registered with the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA) dedicated to treating seabirds. Showcasing a state-of-the-art seabird hospital in Cape Town, we can complete almost all our diagnostic and veterinary treatment in-house. Dedicated facilities are available for our full-time clinical veterinarian to provide the best possible treatment to seabird patients. SANCCOB Gqeberha houses a modest surgery where minor surgical procedures are performed onsite, however we have partnered with a local veterinary clinic for X-Rays and more complex surgical procedures.
A high percentage of the seabirds admitted are abandoned African penguin chicks. Many abandoned chicks arrive in poor body condition and are suffering from malnutrition, dehydration and parasite infestations upon admittance. These cases require veterinary intervention to address these problems, which are performed in conjunction with a progressive hand rearing methodology.
One of the most common diseases that causes seabirds to arrive at SANCCOB is botulism, which presents as a temporary paralysis, caused by the toxin from a bacterium.
Botulism mainly affects gull species and Great White Pelicans, however if rescued and treated timeously, there is a good chance of survival. SANCCOB has also dealt with severe outbreaks of novel diseases in wild birds, most recently avian influenza, which affected large numbers of endangered species.
One of the most common diseases that causes seabirds to arrive at SANCCOB is botulism, which presents as a temporary paralysis, caused by the toxin from a bacterium. Botulism mainly affects gull species and Great White Pelicans, however if rescued and treated timeously, there is a good chance of survival. SANCCOB has also dealt with severe outbreaks of novel diseases in wild birds, most recently avian influenza, which affected large numbers of endangered species.
Depending on the reason for admittance of the individual patient, the veterinary team will diagnose, draw up a treatment plan with the rehabilitation team and monitor each patient’s response to treatment. It is possible to treat and rehabilitate severely injured seabirds, providing that rapid rescue and transfer to SANCCOB’s seabird hospital. Seabirds that have lost a lot of blood through a trauma incident may be candidates for a blood transfusion and seabirds suffering from fractured bones may be eligible for fracture repair.
The objective of veterinary treatment is to ensure we minimise pain and suffering, however ultimately, the goal is to assess whether seabirds in our care can be successfully treated, rehabilitated and released back to the wild.
Chick Bolstering Project
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 a artificial incubators for eggs, hatchling incubators and dedicated equipment for hand-rearing penguin and other seabird chicks.
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.
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.