After several flights and many hours of travel, I finally arrived at Table View in the early morning. Table View is a suburb of Cape Town where SANCCOB is located. A few hours later I was ready to begin! On the walk over to SANCCOB, I was provided spectacular views of Table Mountain across the South Atlantic Ocean. It was exciting to know that this area is home to the African penguin. They inhabit two mainland colonies and a chain of islands on the southwestern Coast of South Africa.
Arriving at SANCCOB, the first thing I saw was a beautiful mural of African penguins on the outside of a building. More familiar to me, however, were the sounds in the distance. It was unmistakably the braying of African penguins and the peeping of chicks! Now I was bursting with excitement as I entered through the front gate.
When I walked into their facility I was able to meet the dedicated staff and volunteers at SANCCOB who are highly committed to their native species. The first thing we did was have the daily morning meeting to go over everyone’s assignments. SANCCOB has many different pens and units of penguins ranging from abandoned chicks to injured or malnourished adult birds. Each person can be assigned to any of the different areas depending on the day.
The main focus of my trip is to assist with the chick bolstering project. This is a very busy time of year as it is the season where African penguin parents abandon their chicks in mass quantities. As a result, I was assigned to pen 10, which holds 159 African penguin chicks; where I was joined with a SANCCOB staff member as well as staff from zoos and aquariums across the United States. It’s great to know that we are providing so much support to penguin conservation through the “Keeper Exchange Program” through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Like Mystic Aquarium, other facilities accredited by the AZA are providing resources to assist SANCCOB in this very busy time of year.
African penguin chick bolstering season is underway in South Africa and animal care experts from AZA-accredited Georgia Aquarium, Mystic Aquarium and Shedd Aquarium are on site helping the SANCCOB saves seabirds staff for the next couple of months.
Today’s major check off item for me was just learning the ropes. I was able to gain an understanding of how the facility runs, the daily schedule, and what is involved in caring for the penguins at their facility.
The pens at SANCCOB are organized by the type of care that the individual birds need. Some may be very close to being released while others require more advanced care. The 159 penguin chicks in pen 10 have a very strict regimen. It is crucial that they are provided with electrolytes and vitamins, various medicines, formula, multiple fish feedings, swim time, and many other measures to ensure they are given the best chance to make it back out into the open ocean.
Despite this very strict schedule their still needs to be time to do the prep work and cleaning tasks to ensure daily operations run smoothly. I was blown away by the staff and volunteers from all over the world who have come together in this very hectic work environment to aid in the rehabilitation of these animals.
In total, SANCCOB currently has over 400 animals receiving round the clock care. With a tightly packed schedule, the end of the day came sooner than I expected. All the volunteers and staff gathered together to have a dismissal meeting and talk about the day. It was exciting because with the new animals SANCCOB admitted today they officially took in their 1,000th African penguin of the year. That number alone goes to show the impact that these efforts are having on future generations of African penguins. That inspiring moment made me so excited to see what tomorrow will bring!