18 September 2012 by Julienne du Toit

How penguins are like rhinos

In 2010, the African penguin was declared endangered. With their numbers steadily decreasing, experts are trying to save every last penguin.

Every penguin saved can make a difference. Photo Chris Marais

Last week South African National Parks (SANParks) released a touching picture of a small group of African penguins taking a few tentative webbed steps into the sea.


										Rescued and safe at Penguins Eastern Cape sanctuary near Cape St Francis. Photo Chris Marais

These were some of the 46 penguins that had been rescued from Bird Island and St Croix Island off Port Elizabeth during the brutal winter months. They had been underweight and dehydrated. If left alone, the penguins would simply have died.

But with African penguin numbers plummeting, every individual saved can make a difference.

Bird Island and St Croix Island are now officially part of Addo Elephant National Park and are regularly patrolled by ornithologists and biologists. Up until fairly recently, it was policy to ‘let nature take its course’ if a penguin wasn’t making it for reasons other than human-induced.

In this respect, penguins have become like rhinos. There are too few now to leave matters up to nature alone.

SANParks rangers at Addo are the guardians of the largest concentration of the now-endangered African penguin. St Croix is home to 6 625 breeding pairs, and Bird Island has 3 031.

The rangers monitor them daily, and provide artificial nest covers to shelter eggs and chicks from harsh weather and the greedy kelp gulls.

The rangers monitor them daily, and provide artificial nest covers to shelter eggs and chicks from harsh weather and the greedy kelp gulls.

And when the situation demands it, ailing penguins are flown by helicopter to nearby sanctuaries like the SA Marine Rehabilitation Centre and Penguins Eastern Cape.

This is something both organisations have done many times. They feed these sickly penguins so that they are in good condition, and release them from the mainland. Most are 'blues', with their subadult plumage. From here, penguins follow their infallible navigation and head back to their island homes, hopefully to find mates and breed.

Category: Wildlife

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