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TThe Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) Eastern Cape, located in the friendly seaside city of Port Elizabeth, is a rescue facility for seabirds. Here, birds that have been oiled, stranded, injured or abandoned are nursed back to health. The work done here is critical, as the African penguin population has recently nosedived.
It’s feeding time at SANCCOB Eastern Cape, located in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, only a few steps away from a pristine beach.
Zamokhule Lazola heads into the rehabilitation area and gently whistles to let the birds know to get out of the pool. They are all guided with barriers into their pen for feeding time. Each bird has a hospital ID number on its flipper, and their medication and allotted number of fish are called out as they are fed.
Most of the birds are African penguins (not surprising, because 2 of the most important breeding islands for this dwindling species – Bird Island and St Croix – are not far away). But sometimes a few exotics arrive.
A beautiful Southern Giant Petrel is in the hospital visiting all the way from the Antarctic. Alfie and Moseley, rockhopper penguins with crazy yellow hair-dos, are from Prince Edward Islands in the Southern Ocean and have been transported to the Cape Town facility to live with the other rockhopper. Sailors might have caught them and then let them go close to Port Elizabeth. A while back, a king penguin from Antarctica washed up on South African shores and was brought here.
Some penguins have been caught up in oil slicks from ships cleaning their bilges. A single vessel washing its decks can oil 100 penguins, leaving them poisoned, cold (because their feathers are no longer waterproof) and dehydrated.
This centre has treated more than 10 000 seabirds in 25 years. It’s a significant number, given that the African penguin population has suffered a crash from 150 000 pairs in the 1950s to fewer than 26 000 pairs by 2009. In 2010 they were put on the list of endangered animals.
SANCCOB Eastern Cape runs a highly professional operation. It’s specifically geared around visitors, who can come for a tour between 9am and 4pm, 7 days a week, and see the penguins in their outside enclosures. There's also a shop that sells souvenirs.
Some penguins can never be released (like Batman, who is blind). But for the staff at this sanctuary, the happiest days of all are when healthy penguins can be taken to the beach and released. They head straight home, without a backward glance.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
SANCCOB Eastern Cape
Tel: +27 (0)41 583 1830
How to get here
The facility is located in the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, right at the tip of Marine Drive. If you drive along the coast to the southernmost point of Nelson Mandela Bay you can’t miss it.
Best time to visit
The penguins are fed twice a day, between 8.30am and 10am in the mornings, and mid-afternoon.
Things to do
The Cape Recife Nature Reserve has a unique bird hide, excellent for spotting the famed flamingos in the area. The Addo Elephant Park is also nearby and definitely an experience to remember.
What will it cost?
There is no charge for visiting, but if you'd like to adopt a penguin of your choice, it will cost R600.
Length of stay
This is a lovely half-day excursion.
Where to stay
There is plenty of accommodation on the beachfront or in the wilderness areas just outside of the city.