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|December 1, 2012 - Tracy Camp|
It's my third day here at SANCCOB and for consistency they have scheduled me to be back in the ICU again. We have less birds in the ICU today as some of them were upgraded yesterday to pen two! Each Friday all the birds get a vet exam to see how they are progressing. Nola, the resident vet, came around to each of the pens and looked at each and every bird. Based on their appearance and overall body condition, as well as how they are taking their fish, she determines if they are strong enough to be upgraded. We had eight birds in the ICU that seemed to have progressed nicely so they got upgraded to the next pen. This is very exciting as it means they are on the right track to getting to be able to one day be released. It's a good feeling to know that I had a small part in that process.
Today I feel as though I now finally have a good handle on the routine of the ICU. Not only have I learned the day’s schedule and am becoming more efficient at it, I also have started to learn each of the birds. I know which ones are what they call "free feeders" and will take their fish readily. I know which little chicks are a little more on the feisty side as well as which ones are a little bit weaker and need me to go a little bit slower. There is a little chick, number 680, that is still pretty weak. He is separated from the rest of the birds to give him a chance to rest up and get his strength back. I find myself going out of my way to check on him several times a day just to make sure he is still hanging in there. He is also holding a special place in my heart and I hope that during my time here he will get stronger and maybe even get upgraded to another pen before I leave. I will probably stop in ICU to check on him every day even if I am not in that routine.
Today I was also in the ICU with another volunteer from the states. Jessie has always loved penguins and heard about this opportunity and signed up to come help. She is still determining her own career path when she returns to back home, so she was very interested to speak to me about working in aquarium. She hadn't realized how different taking care of healthy penguins in an aquarium setting was compared to rehabilitating penguins. We had some nice chances to speak while tubing and feeding all of our little guys. At one point she asked me why I chose to work at Mystic Aquarium as opposed to another facility. This was easy for me to answer. I described the Mystic Aquarium mission; to inspire people to care for and protect our ocean planet through education, research and exploration. I pointed out that my trip to SANCCOB was just one of the many ways that Mystic Aquarium is dedicated to that mission and conservation. I also described many of the things we do back home to help educate and spread that mission, like our penguin encounter program. She said it was easy to see that I loved the place that I work and it sounded like a great facility. I couldn't agree more!
Jessie is just one of the many volunteers that come here from all over the world to help care for the sea birds that come into SANCCOB. Currently they have volunteers from England, Germany, Scotland and the United States. To volunteer at SANCCOB, they are asking to give a six week commitment. Many of the volunteers stay at the same lodge that we do, so it is a great chance to get to know many people from many cultures. Right now upon first glance, it would appear that SANCCOB has a lot of volunteers here to help out. But with the current amount of birds they have in the facility and with more coming in every day, they are actually very short staffed. Most of the volunteers are also getting ready to end their six week stay here, so in the next few weeks there will not be nearly enough volunteers to help care for the birds. If you would like to learn how you can volunteer for SANCCOB and help the African penguin please visit SANCCOB's website, www.sanccob.co.za.
Other than taking care of penguins, SANCCOB also rehabs all other sea birds and sometimes just any birds at all. So today they had quite a few people stop by a drop of injured birds they had found on the side of the road or in their back yards. The staff also had to respond to a call to bring in an injured pelican today. Now I must admit, as far as flighted birds go, I have a strange fascination for pelicans. So I was very excited to really get to see one up close. When it came, I was shocked at how big it truly was! Usually I see them from a distance flying through the air when on vacation. To see one in the pen just a few feet away was actually a little intimidating. But boy was he gorgeous! I have to say, I would be nervous if I was actually in the routine to take care of his pen. There are also two giant petrels in that same routine. They are so big, but seem so fragile at the same time. Even though I have experience with penguins, I would have no idea what to do with these giant flighted birds! I think for now, I will stick to what I know best. But perhaps by the end of my trip I can work up the courage to try and handle one of these enormous birds.
At the end of the day I was invited to dinner by Cheryl, a local volunteer for SANCCOB. She also runs a bed and breakfast here in town for volunteers of SANCCOB to stay. I had met her on my last trip to South Africa and two years later she remembered me and welcomed me into her home. She figured I could use a nice home cooked meal. She treated us to homemade lasagna, garlic bread, vegetables and ice cream for dessert! It was so good, but the best part was all of the stories she had to share with us over her years of working with SANCCOB. Between the wonderful food and great stories, I felt right at home. The people here are amazing like that. To be so far away from home, but still feel like you are around family... It's a great feeling!
Skittish African Penguins cross a road on Robben Island in South Africa.
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