End in sight for SANCCOB’s new and improved African penguin Chick Rearing Unit

by Tia

After months of fundraising to upgrade and improve the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds’ (SANCCOB’s) Chick Rearing Unit (CRU) in Cape Town the NGO is appealing to the public to raise just R250 000 in support of the building. 

The current facility situated in Table View along the West Coast is facing space constraints to keep up with the increased demand to artificially incubate, hatch and hand-rear wild-origin African penguin eggs and chicks, rescued from penguin colonies in the Western Cape. Penguin and seabird rangers employed by SANCCOB, in partnership with conservation authorities, identify eggs and chicks in urgent need of rescue when nested in unsafe locations, or after being abandoned because of extreme weather conditions or moulting parents. Lack of fish – sardine and anchovy – has an impact on African penguin breeding and chick rearing.

According to SANCCOB, “Low food availability affects the birds’ success in raising chicks during the normal winter breeding season in South Africa. African penguins have the ability to relay but that may lead to an overlap of breeding and the onset of moult. Sufficient food would allow the birds to raise their chicks to fledging age with enough time to fatten themselves up to be ready for their annual moult towards the end of the year.”

The African penguin population is decreasing at 7.9% a year and, at that rate, they could be extinct by 2035, which makes SANCCOB’s conservation efforts to reverse the decline of numbers even more crucial. On average, 500 to 600 African penguin chicks and 300 to 400 African penguin eggs are brought to SANCCOB each year with numbers increasing by 256% in the last seven years. 

Photograph by © DAN CALLISTER www.dancallister.com

SANCCOB’s Chick Bolstering Project commenced in 2006 as a collaborative project between SANCCOB, conservation authorities, and the South African government in order to arrest and reverse the decline of the African penguin population, which over the last 100 years has lost 97% of its population. There are now around 8,300 breeding pairs left in the wild in South Africa.

In a further attempt to halt their decline to extinction, in March this year, BirdLife South Africa and SANCCOB took legal action against the Office of the Minister of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment to implement no-catch zones around six breeding sites. The African penguin is slowly starving to death as it competes, unfairly, for food with commercial purse-seine vessels, who are fishing in their hunting grounds. With less food, the African penguin is forced to travel further distances resulting in them abandoning their nests with eggs and chicks.

SANCCOB is the only organisation in the world to artificially incubate and hatch wild-origin African penguin eggs and hand-rear the chicks for release back into the wild, with the aim of bolstering the declining wild population. While the current CRU’s release rate of hand-reared African penguin chicks is still over 80%, it has become very difficult to accommodate the increased number of eggs being brought in. Improved amenities mean more space, improved hygiene and even higher releases rates.

Says Melissa Knott, Head of Operations at SANCCOB, “We are thrilled to have almost reached our final goal, and we believe that we can reach the finish line to bring this project to fruition with support from the public. The new building will enable us to accept twice the amount of abandoned and rescued African penguin eggs and chicks, which equates to roughly 400 eggs for incubation and 200 little chicks. We are hopeful that the litigation case will result in a decision by government to implement meaningful closures in terms of size and location, so that when released the hand-reared birds, there is enough food for them to survive.” 

Having a world-class facility like the CRU in Cape Town is not only a boost for the African penguin species, it also plays a pivotal role in eco-tourism and provides an opportunity for skills development for those interested in a career in conservation. 

To partner with SANCCOB, and help them reach their goal to begin construction on the new CRU, visit www.sanccob.co.za or  contact Melissa Knott at melissa@sanccob.co.za.

Please follow SANCCOB on Facebook and Instagram or Twitter.

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