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African penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 162512808

Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds Burghers Walk African Penguin Project

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 162512808) - African penguin - Awarded $11,300 on June 06, 2016

The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is the only penguin species to naturally occur on the African continent. It was once one of South Africa's most abundant seabirds, but has suffered a massive population decline. During the early 20th century the population was estimated at one million breeding pairs, however, today the total estimate is less than 25 000 breeding pairs with only 19 284 breeding pairs recorded in South Africa in 2015 (South African Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts). As such, the present population represents approximately only 2,5% of its prevalence some 80 years ago and, most worryingly, the decrease is continuing. Due to the rapid decline, this indicator species, which breeds at 29 locations in South African and southern Namibia, was listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2010. 

The five primary African penguin breeding colonies in the Western Cape are Dassen Island, Robben Island, Boulders Beach (including Burgher's Walk), Stony Point and Dyer Island. While other colonies numbers have declined dramatically in the last few years, the penguin population at Boulders Beach (including Burghers Walk) has remained relatively stable. Protecting and managing a key colony-area for the species is vital to its survival.

The Burgher's Walk Restoration Project is a co-ordinated plan to protect African penguins from curious members of the public, dogs and other domestic animals, and from being run over by cars travelling along the road above the site.

The objectives of the project are to:

 

  • Rescue ill, injured, oiled and abandoned African penguins and penguin eggs and ensure that they are admitted to SANCCOB efficiently.
  • Rehabilitate rescued penguins and eggs for release back into the colony
  • Provide healthy and safe breeding grounds for penguins
  • Rehabilitate the natural habitat (Strandveld and Coastal thicket - where heavy winter rains, storm water damage and trampling caused severe degradation
  • Train and develop staff and Penguin Rangers

Penguin Rangers are a key component of the project and play a pivotal role in the rehabilitation chain of African penguins. The project currently employs four Penguin Rangers, many of whom are from previously disadvantaged backgrounds. They receive a two-week seabird handling and feeding course at SANCCOB (in addition to the regular ranger training offered by SANParks) and are sponsored through SANCCOB's fundraising efforts.

 

Penguin Rangers are particularly important during the annual ‘chick season’ (from October to January) when adult penguins abandon their young when they undergo their annual moult. The annual mass abandonment of chicks, which has been recorded since the 1930s, takes place when adults abandon their young when they start their annual moult; a 20 to 25-day process of shedding their old feathers and growing new plumage. As the adult penguins are unable to hunt during this time, their chicks face a very real risk of starvation without the efforts of the rangers. With the help of the Penguin Rangers at the two land-based African penguin colonies, Boulders Beach and Stony Point, SANCCOB admits between 600 and 900 abandoned chicks and eggs to its centres each year. Since 2006, SANCCOB has released 3,841 chicks back into the wild at a total release rate of 76%. This would not be possible without the efforts of the Penguin Rangers.

Adult penguins and their young are also removed as a precautionary measure from areas where they are at risk from speeding motor vehicles or predators. In addition, abandoned or misplaced eggs are transported to SANCCOB in mobile incubators to be hatched, hand-reared and released back into the wild at the suitable fledgling age.

Project documents