Video: Plettenberg Bay Celebrates World Oceans Day by Releasing 5 Rehabilitated African Penguins

Source: Nature's Valley Trust - July 12, 2017 in Adventure

Video: Plettenberg Bay Celebrates World Oceans Day by Releasing 5 Rehabilitated African Penguins
Photo: Paul Mannix/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) was listed Endagered by BirdLife International in 2010. To boost their numbers again, BirdLife South Africa and its partners are currently working on establishing new colonies along the Western Cape coastline. As part of this process, Nature’s Valley Trust – together with Tenikwa Rehabilitation, BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife Plettenberg Bay – released 5 rehabilitated African Penguins on Saturday the 10th of June at Look Out Beach, Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. The aim was to increase public awareness of African Penguins in the Bay, their plight, and what can be done to help them.

The release itself

Together with a team from Tenikwa, we prepared for the release by setting up the enclosure for the Penguins. It was an open type enclosure, to make sure that the penguins acclimatized to their surroundings well for two hours prior to release. After that, we fenced the area off where the public could stand to admire the Penguins from a safe distance. After Dr. Mark Brown explained to the public that these 5 brave Penguins were the first to be release after rehab in Plett in over a decade, and said thank you to all the lovely parties that made this special moment possible, it was time for the Penguins to go…

As soon as the gates were open, the Penguins walked straight down to the sea. One brave Penguin led the group into the ocean and as soon as they touched the water they swam away on to their new adventure! It was great to see the excitement and interest of the public concerning the Penguins that day. A few reactions on NVT’s Facebook page gives a good picture of the atmosphere of that special morning:

“Thank you so much for that happy moment! It was very special!”

“It was adorable to see!”

“Wow! Amazing! Well done! I hope they will stay together… “

“Amazing. Amid all the problems, Garden Route are still excelling in their efforts to protect our nature – our heritage. Well done!”

An introduction of the 5 released African Penguins

It is with great pleasure that I introduce you to the 5 famous released African Penguins – we developed characters and stories for each one, feel free to visit our Facebook page to read their full stories:

Penguin #1: Mr. Afri Can-Penguin (ID tag: 17/145)

African Penguin

Photo: Bird Life South Africa

Mr. Afri Can-Penguin ended up at Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre because during celebrating he was moulting and didn’t have a very good insulation and his down feathers were soaked. He had to stay put until his full plumage developed and he was insulated enough to go back into the cold ocean waters’. He was on bedrest, getting daily supplements and was being tube-fed until he could swim and hunt again. On the day of the release his moulting process was finished and he could properly maintain his body temperature again!

Penguin #2: Mr. A. Penguin (ID tag: 17/152)

African Penguin

Photo: Bird Life South Africa

Mr. A. Penguin was found beached several kiometres away, close to the Knysna heads, with a badly injured foot. This poor guy was found by Ms. Roux, vet-nurse and senior rehabber at Tenikwa. “We treated the open wound on his foot and put him on a course of antibiotics to prevent any infection. We also gave him some medication to control the pain. He is doing very well and should be discharged on 10 June” she said.

Penguin #3: Mr. Pen Quin Bond (ID tag: 17/128)

African Penguin

Photo: Bird Life South Africa

Mr. Pen Quin Bond was found on a beach in Plettenberg Bay with a badly shredded Penguin suit. Just like Mr. Afri Can-Penguin, he went through the annual moulting of his penguin suit, having little or no protection from the freezing waters. Bond recovered well and was being kept warm and dry while his feathers grown back.

Penguin #4: Mrs. Spheniscus Demersus (ID tag: 17/101).

African Penguin

Photo: Bird Life South Africa

While traveling the coast, Mrs. Spheniscus Demersus started to feel ill. It turned out that, much like human malaria, avian malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. At first she felt quite dizzy and tired all the time and on the route back to her Port Elizabeth based colony, she started having shortness of breath and cramps in her flippers. Soon she passed out and stranded. The treatment of the Avian Malaria went without a hitch but there were some slight complications as Mrs Demersus started moulting close to her release date, thus extending her stay to 4 months. She is however doing very well and could not have been in a better place to start her moulting, with ample food and very little stress. Her new discharge date is 10 June 2017, they will be going straight home as she says she’s had enough travelling for now.

Penguin #5: Ms. Peng Flipper (ID tag: 17/091)

African Penguin

Photo: Bird Life South Africa

After surviving a brutal attack from what may have been a Great White Shark, Peng was rushed to Tenikwa. She was treated for her injuries. “Peng suffered some damage to her abdomen, which was affecting her ability to stand on her left leg. She was being treated for these injuries and underwent extensive therapy to strengthen her leg. She has been recovering unbelievably well” Hanli, Tenikwa rehabber, explains.

Why this Penguin release?

This exciting Penguin release was the start of an important new project: investigating the establishment of a new mainland African Penguin breeding colony in Plettenberg Bay. Historically, rehabilitated penguins from Tenikwa in Plett have been transported through to Cape Town or Port Elizabeth for release near existing breeding colonies. However, recent research by BirdLife and NVT has shown that penguins are common in our Bay virtually all year round, visiting to make use of the extensive fish stocks we have here. Based on this, the decision was taken to start releasing birds right here, which is clearly where they want to be. “This is an exciting project for Plettenberg Bay, and while there is still much more work to be done, releasing penguins here helps to raise awareness of the project and saves the penguins some of the stress of being transported long distances to other colonies” says Dr Mark Brown, Programme Director of the Nature’s Valley Trust.

Besides the avoidance of stress that comes with being transported such a long distance, “establishing new colonies of Penguins along the South Coast is a vital conservation tool” says Christina Hagen of BirdLife South Africa, who is leading the project. “The distribution of Penguins’ favorite prey, Sardine and Anchovy, has shifted away from the West Coast – where many of the Penguin colonies are – to the Soutern Coast and Agulhus Bank. Because of a lack of breeding sites in the area, the Penguins have been unable to adapt to this change”. Between Gansbaai and Port Elizabeth lies 600 km of coastline with no islands that are suitable for a mainland Penguin colony. This huge gap is splitting the population in two. If a natural or man-made disaster would occur in either of the strongholds areas, more than 50% of the global population could be lost. It is to prevent such a catastrophe that BirdLife South Africa is investigating the establishment of new mainland African Penguin breeding colonies in De Hoop and Plettenberg Bay within this 600 km gap.

P.S. some fun African Penguin facts:

* Each African Penguin has a different pattern of black spots on its white chest and belly, which observers use to identify individual animals.

* Predators looking down from above struggle to see their black backs against the dark ocean; predators looking up from the water struggle to see their white bellies against the sky – therefore these animals are almost perfectly camouflaged from predators while swimming!

Video Credit: Stuart Brink Films

Photos and Video used with permission of owners

To view the Creative Commons license for the cover photo, click here.


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