As reported by Josh Davis, Mystic Aquarium’s Senior Penguin Trainer
January 4, 2018: I’m not sure if it was the seven-hour time difference or the excitement of getting back to SANCCOB that woke me up early enough to watch the sun rise against Table Mountain – one of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks. Lucky for me, the room I’ll be staying in for the next two weeks has the perfect view of it.
Mystic Aquarium’s partnership with SANCCOB, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, was established in 2000 as a result of the Aquarium’s participation in oil cleanup and recovery efforts following the Treasure Oil Spill. In my tenure at Mystic Aquarium I have been fortunate enough to travel to SANCCOB twice previously to assist with the Chick Bolstering Project. Chick bolstering is the act of rehabilitating and preparing abandoned African penguin chicks for their release back into their native colonies. I was elated to get back to the center for the third time not only to see friends I have made over the years; but to make new friends as well.
I was also excited to see what changes have taken place at SANCCOB, as they are in the middle of construction of their new state-of-the-art seabird hospital. As I entered the center for the first time this trip, the changes were immediately evident. Due to construction, only a few of the pens where the abandoned chicks are cared for are accessible. The coordination that is required to make sure that the penguins receive the same high-quality care in a different and smaller area is nothing short of amazing. Schedules, routines, and procedures have all been modified to ensure that the penguins are given their best chance at survival.
One of the other major changes I immediately noticed is the reduced volume of chicks present in the center. I have worked at SANCCOB in years past when just two pens contained the same number of penguins that the center was currently caring for as a whole. There was even a release of 44 chicks planned for later that day. After speaking with Nicky, the Rehab Manager at SANCCOB, I learned that the Penguin Monitors, those responsible for observing the penguin colonies, believe the penguins did not have a strong breeding season this year.
I had hoped that this just meant that fewer chicks were abandoned this year, but sadly I was mistaken. It was a jarring reminder of how many challenges this endangered species is facing including climate change, overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction.
As I jumped back into the routine, I was able to meet some of the new ‘Bird Rehabbers’, as they are called, and other volunteers. SANCCOB receives volunteer assistance as well as interns from all over the world. Today I worked in Pen 2 helping to care for 34 African penguin juveniles with volunteers from the United States and Germany. The international friendships built at SANCCOB are just one of the many benefits to working at the center.
As I began settling in to learn the new procedures alongside fellow volunteers, I found myself, once again, inspired to see individuals and organizations coming together to work towards the survival of the African penguin.