As reported by Josh Davis, Mystic Aquarium’s Senior Penguin Trainer
Today was my first day off since working at SANCCOB and it was a clear and sunny day. I met up with Michelle and Jane, two trainers from Shedd Aquarium who are also here to work at SANCCOB. Together the three of us set out towards the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in the main part of Cape Town. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is made up of two harbors named for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of England which established in the late 1800’s.
Since that time, the Waterfront has seen tremendous changes and is now home to several markets, shops, restaurants, and hotels. Being on the water, it is where the ferry to Robben Island departs from- bringing people to one of the most famous South African land marks. Throughout the years, Robben Island has been home to over 132 species of birds, including African penguins. The island is more famous though for being the location of the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela spent much of his 27 year imprisonment during Apartheid. We were very sad to find out that due to winds, all ferries had been cancelled for the day. I hope to some day make it out there.
We spent the rest of the morning walking around the shops at the waterfront looking for souvenirs and admiring the craftsmanship of local vendors. We even stumbled across some Cape fur seals sunning themselves on one of the docks. We were happy to see that onlookers were being responsible and maintaining a safe distance to observe them.
We ended the day doing one of my favorite things in South Africa – watching the kite surfers. Kite surfing is an extreme sport that combines the skills of surfing, skim boarding, and parasailing! It’s amazing to watch because the kite surfers perform flips and twists in the air between waves. After a long day exploring, it was the perfect way to relax before getting back to work at SANCCOB.
With less than 100 African penguins in the center for rehabilitation this year, I have spent way more time than I’m used to working around SANCCOB to clean and maintain the center. My assignment today was to care for the penguins in Pen 2. Since there were three of us assigned to that pen we were able to give the penguins their fluids, get them their swimming time in the pool, and clean the pen all by 10:30! I am used to having twice as many penguins in the pen, and half as much manpower. I wish I could say I was happy that there were less chicks, but its a constant reminder of how poor the penguin breeding was in the colonies this year.
The rest of the morning was spent helping to clean up Home Pen. SANCCOB uses sand as a substrate in Home Pen which is good for the penguins’ feet. Periodically the sand must be stirred up and turned over in order to keep the area clean and maintained. It was fun to work in Home Pen and get to know some of the penguins living in there. Just like the penguins at Mystic Aquarium, each one has their own personality. One penguin, Steve, followed me around the pen constantly investigating everything I was doing. After finishing up with the sand, one of the other volunteers, also named Josh, showed me how to cut up pieces of one of the plants in Home Pen to provide nesting material to the penguins. It was fun to watch the penguins collect these pieces of vegetation and drag them back into their various nests and burrows.
Following lunch it was time to prepare for the afternoon feed. Just as in the morning, the feed moved along pretty quickly giving us time to work on some more extra projects around the center. One of the things I stopped to take note of was the steady presence of the public coming in to visit the center. Families and small groups of friends, both local and on holiday, were coming in this week to learn about African penguins and the important work being done at SANCCOB. Due to the construction, the education department at SANCCOB is not able to give their regular tours, but they still do a great job highlighting the work being done and the benefits of having a newer and updated center. It is great to see people coming in to learn about what they can do to help animals like African penguins, and I can’t wait to bring even more conservation experience back to our Educational Programs at Mystic Aquarium!
Today when I arrived at the SANCCOB, 35 of the African penguins had already been loaded into the transport boxes that SANCCOB utilizes to transport penguins. These penguins, the ones I helped to weigh and hold for blood collection earlier in the week, have met the criteria to be released back out into the open ocean! Several of the rehabbers came in early in the morning to get the penguins ready for their journey to Stony Point, the penguin colony in Betty’s Bay. Since Stony Point is about two hours away by car it is important to get them on the road as soon as possible so that they are not traveling during the hottest part of the day.
Everyone was excited at morning meeting when the rehabbers announced that 34 blues and one adult were going out for release. It’s a great reward for all of the hard work everyone puts in to get these penguins healthy. It’s important to realize that the penguins cared for at SANCCOB would almost certainly perish if they were not rehabilitated. Today, SANCCOB was ensuring that 35 African penguins would remain a part of the already endangered population.
After the meeting, several volunteers departed to release the penguins and I reported to Pen 3, where 35 penguins remained, awaiting their turn for release. Starting on Sunday, the process will start over again with the blood collections, weights, and feather grading. All I could think about while feeding these penguins was wondering how many will be released next!