Plettenberg Bay Celebrates World Oceans Day by Releasing 5 Rehabilitated African Penguins
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 Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, 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 (wooden structure with see-through mesh), to make sure that the penguins acclimatized to their surroundings well, for two hours prior to release. We fenced off a barrier to the public, so that they may admire at a distance that is not threatening to the penguins. 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. With thanks to all the stakeholders who made the special moment possible, it was time for the penguins to go and be free…
As soon as the gates were open, the penguins walked straight towards the sea. A leader was born as one brave penguin led the group into the ocean and as soon as they touched the water they swam away on to their next 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 no. 1: Mr. Afri Can-Penguin (ID tag: 17/145)
Mr. Afri Can-Penguin ended up at Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre after celebrating his 2nd birthday got a bit out of hand, landing him in the cold ocean waters while moulting – a silly mistake indeed. With little insulation, the moulting period for penguins is a necessary but very vulnerable stage of life. He stayed on bedrest getting daily supplements and being tube-fed, until he was insulated enough to tackle the cold ocean waters, again. On the day of the release his moulting process was finished and he could properly maintain his body temperature again!
Penguin no. 2: Mr. A. Penguin (ID tag: 17/152)
Mr. A. Penguin, famous surfer, was found beached several kilometers away, close to the Knysna heads, with a badly injured foot. This poor guy was treated 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 no. 3: Mr. Pen Quin Bond (ID tag: 17/128)
Mr. Pen Quin Bond was found on a beach in Plettenberg Bay with a badly shredded penguin suit. We later learned of his dramatic altercation with Stephen Seagull, internationally wanted serial (penguin) killer. Just like Mr. Afri Can-Penguin, he went through the annual moulting of his suit, having little or no protection from the freezing waters he was attacked by Seagull – perfect timing. Bond passed out from the cold and Seagull got away. Authorities have been dispatched for his capture while Bond recovered. He was kept warm and dry while his feathers grew back in time for the release on the 10th of July.
Penguin no. 4: Mrs. Spheniscus Demersus (ID tag: 17/101)
While traveling the coast with her family, 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 later developed shortness of breath and cramps in her flippers. Soon after she passed out and was rescued from the beach by a very kind man. 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 was however doing very well despite the complications and could not have been in a better place to start her moulting, with ample food and very little stress. Her new discharge date was 10 June 2017.
Penguin no. 5: Ms. Peng Flipper (ID tag: 17/091)
After surviving a brutal attack from what may have been a Great White Shark Olympic swimmer, 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” Hanlie, Tenikwa rehabber, explains.
If it was not for the young Orca, Willie, coming to her rescue we would have been a short of a high caliber Olympic swimmer. The shark in question was taken into custody but his identity not yet made public. The Society of Hate-speech Against the Renowned Carcharodon carcharias (SHARCC) came to his defence: ‘the claims made against our species is a very sad. We are not the villains the Orca community makes us out to be, we are only trying to survive and take care of our young as does any other species out there. The jury is out and we can only wait for a verdict. See the full story here.
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’ favourite prey, Sardine and Anchovy, has shifted away from the West Coast - where many of the penguin colonies are – to the Southern Coast and Agulhas 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.
Penguin release footage
In case you haven’t watched it yet, make sure to take a look at the incredible penguin release footage, created by Stuart Brink Films!
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 penguins.
- 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!
BirdLifeSA (2017). African Penguin Fact Sheet. 03-07-17
BirdLifeSA (2017). Conservation, Seabird Conservation, African Penguin conservation. 03-07-17