13 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Black and White in Trouble

A pox on the guano gatherers of decades ago, I say. Even today, the poor African penguins living on islands around South Africa are suffering because of them.

In June this year, nearly 800 penguins died of exposure on Bird Island and St Croix, just north of Port Elizabeth. In October this year, the same wet and cold conditions were the death of another few dozen.

Both islands fall under protection of Addo Elephant National Park.

During the most recent bad weather, SA National Parks was able to chopper in and collect birds, taking them to two nearby rehabilitation centre - Penguins Eastern Cape (PEC) at Cape St Francis and SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC) in Port Elizabeth.

Why, you may wonder, would a penguin perish because of the cold? Don’t they thrive in sub-zero Antarctic conditions? Yes they do, but those are the emperor and king penguins you’re thinking of. The African penguins are warm-weather creatures.

The lack of guano in which to burrow, the recent drought which has caused sheltering vegetation to die off, plus the foul weather helped create a perfect storm, a deadly confluence of deadly events, as Trudi Malan of PEC puts it.

She and her team of penguin rehabbers have barely had a wink of sleep since October when the first rescue penguins were choppered in by SA National Parks.

Why, you may also wonder, are daring chopper rescues being launched to save a few dozen penguins?

The sobering fact is that their numbers are a steady downslide. This year, the Red Data List status of African penguins was officially upgraded to Endangered.

There is hope, but every single penguin counts.

  • If you see a penguin in trouble, call 082 890 0207.

Category: Wildlife

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