On Sunday, 28 June, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) released a second group of African penguins rehabilitated at its centre in Cape St. Francis after a recent mystery oil spill hit the two Algoa Bay colonies. One of the lucky penguins was first banded in 1997 on Bird Island for research purposes, making him a full 19 years old.
The penguin, whose body was 30% covered in oil, was wearing an identification band with the number, T1453, on his flipper when the Marine Rangers Section of South African National Parks (SANParks) rescued him on 28 May 2015. After researchers consulted SANCCOB’s records, it showed that the penguin was first banded as a juvenile penguin back in 1997 on Bird Island by SANParks as part of on-going population research of the species.
T1453, nicknamed “Fatty” by his adopter, Jessica Davidson, received four weeks of care and T.L.C by SANCCOB’s staff and volunteers, and was approved for release this past Sunday at Seal Point Lighthouse, Cape St Francis, along with then other previously oiled African penguins.
Juanita Raath, Rehabilitation Coordinator at SANCCOB Eastern Cape, said: “The re-sighting of T1453 is not only important for on-going population research on the African penguin species but it is also very encouraging for the SANCCOB staff to know that there are still African penguins in the wild that are surviving to a fairly mature age.”
11-year old Jessica Davidson from Port Elizabeth had the opportunity to adopt and release Fatty back into the wild on her birthday on Sunday. Jessica said, “I wanted a penguin for my birthday and I am very lucky to adopt him and wave goodbye as he swam back to his home and friends.”
Since late May, the non-profit seabird centre has admitted 30 oiled African penguins and four orphaned African penguin chicks from Bird and St. Croix islands after being rescued by rangers from the Marine Section of the Addo Elephant National Park (SANParks). The rehabilitation of the remaining 17 previously oiled African penguins continues at SANCCOB, with the veterinary team confirming that the last group of oiled penguins will be ready for release by the end of this week.
Also in SANCCOB’s care are four African penguin chicks that were admitted because their parents had been oiled. These four chicks are in good health and regaining the natural waterproofing of their brand new, blue-grey feathers, but it will still be another three to four weeks before they will be ready to head home.
While the majority of the previously oiled penguins have been released back into the wild, the source of the oil spill still remains uncertain.
If you weren’t able to attend the penguin release, watch it here:
“The oil spill is a reminder of the constant threats faced by vulnerable seabird populations like the endangered African penguin”, said Raath. “To have met the half-way mark in releasing these birds back into the wild motivates us to continue to improve our oil spill response and rescue operations.”
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