SANCCOB in Namibian penguin rescue

30 April 2009

The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) stepped in last week to save 129 oiled African penguins off the coast of Luderitz in Namibia, before transferring them 1 300km to SANCCOB’s centre in Cape Town for essential treatment.

African penguins are listed as “vulnerable” to extinction on the Red Data list. There are only around 27 000 breeding pairs of these charismatic birds left, down from about 4-million within the last century.

The oiled penguins were the result of an oil spill from an unknown source around the Mercury, Ichaboe, Halifax and Possession islands just off the coast of Luderitz.

Poor visibility, heavy mists and high swell have made it impossible to determine the cause of the oiling, but according to Jessica Kemper, seabird biologist at Namibia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, “the water around Mercury Island was frothy with foam” last Thursday, and “our island technician based there could smell the oil”.

Kemper and SANCCOB chief executive Venessa Strauss monitored the situation as it developed and, on 16 April, decided to move the birds to SANCCOB’s rehabilitation centre in Cape Town, which is equipped to handle up to 2 000 oiled birds.

On 20 April, Strauss flew up to Namibia to spearhead the evacuation, taking with her the essential medication for the initial treatment to save the penguins, before driving back to Cape Town in a truck loaded with the birds.

Kemper was working from a small seabird rehabilitation station and a shed that had been turned into a makeshift holding pen, and was working around the clock with a handful of staff and volunteers to stabilise the penguins ahead of their epic journey to Cape Town.

After 19 hours of non-strop travelling, Strauss arrived at SANCCOB’s centre, where she immediately joined her colleagues to get their “Namibian patients” admitted and to begin the treatment, hydration and much-needed feeding.

SANCCOB has appealed to the public to contribute towards the rehabilitation costs by “adopting” one of the Namibian penguins.

SAinfo reporter and SANCCOB

Would you like to use this article in your publication or on your website? See: Using SAinfo material