All the long hours and hard work that I have been putting in each day paid off tenfold today. I was one of the lucky ones who had the chance to go on a big release for some of the rehabilitated African penguin chicks. When we arrived at the rehab center in the morning, the 34 penguins were preparing to head home were given their final check-up. During this, their identification tags were removed, measurements were taken and transponders were checked to make sure they were fully operational. Once the final okay was given from the veterinarian, they were placed into transport boxes. The boxes were then loaded into the vehicle and we were on our way.
After an hour-long drive through the scenic Cape Fold Mountain range, we made it to Boulder’s Beach. Other staff and volunteers were awaiting our arrival to help unload the precious cargo. As we carried the transport boxes down the boardwalk towards the shoreline, I was filled with emotion. In just a few seconds I would get my first glimpse of an African penguin in its native environment! The sight was more spectacular than I ever could have imagined. Hundreds of penguins stood at the water’s edge; some were cooling off in the beautiful blue-green water and others resorted to the shade inside their underground burrows. I took in the spectacular views of the beautiful coast line coupled with the remarkable animals that have been such an important part of my life since the beginning of my career at Mystic Aquarium.
We lined up the 13 boxes containing two adult penguins and 32 chicks. SANCCOB tries to bring at least one adult when they release their chicks so it can lead them out of their boxes to join the rest of the colony. We agreed that on the count of three we would all tip over the boxes and send off our 34 penguins.
One! Two!! Three!!!
The boxes were tipped over and the chicks started making their way out. Just as planned, the adults lead the group as they headed towards their fellow colony members. As we watched the brave youngsters take in their new surroundings, our crew started to retreat as it is important that the chicks don’t try to follow us back out. Once we gave them some distance our crew watched as the chicks dispersed into the larger group of Boulder’s residents. I will never forget that feeling, one I have never had before. All at once, I was overcome with feelings of amazement, fulfillment, pride, and even slight anxiety, sending a shiver down my spine.
The importance of the work we are doing at both SANCCOB and Mystic Aquarium became clearer to me today than it has ever been before. I am extremely grateful that I get to be a part of it all.