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|December 4, 2012 - Tracy Camp|
|What a day! Today for the first time I got to experience another pen other than the chick ICU. To my surprise this morning during the morning meeting, they had assigned me to be in pen three. Now pen three has a varied collection of birds. They have some chicks, some little blues, some adults, but also this is the pen that has the two southern giant petrels and the pelican! Luckily for me, I was assigned to the pen with a volunteer named Beth from England. She has been here at SANCCOB for about 6 weeks and has been in pen three several times before. I admitted right away that the flighted birds, especially ones as large as the petrels and pelicans, slightly intimidated me. I might be a penguin girl, but I am lost when it comes to these giant fragile birds. Like the other mornings in the ICU, we started right away with tubing all of our birds their Darrows. We started with the penguins first, then a few of the birds we were looking after for the ICU including a Cape gannet, but then it was time for those large, scary birds. Beth was a great teacher and started off by showing me how to properly approach and restrain the petrels and pelican. She thoroughly explained how to control their wings as well as their fragile head and neck. Then she continued to show me how to open up their massive beaks and safely tube their fluids. The day then continued on with the routine of feeding fish. In pen three, most of the birds are slightly stronger and have been upgraded from the other pens. So all of the birds in our pen were being fed whole fish instead of fish tails. A lot of the birds in this pen are also pretty much free feeders. So it is much easier to get them their meal of fish. Although it might be easier to get them to eat the fish, it certainly does take a toll on your fingers. As soon as I sat down with the bin of fish, about 10 penguins ran up and tried to grab the fish from me. Ouch! After feeding time, the birds in pen three get to enjoy a swim in the facility pool. They get to have a free swim period. They are not forced to stay in for any given amount of time like some of the other pens of birds. This was new for me as well since the chicks in ICU are still too little to go for swims. We put all of our penguins in to swim as well as the Cape gannet. While they swam we had the opportunity to clean their pen. This was just the same as cleaning ICU pens, so I had this part down. While the penguins were swimming, we got the news that we were getting some new birds into our pen that were being upgraded from pen two! Eight birds total that are well on their way and getting stronger every day. The other volunteers brought us our new group of birds to add and they put them into the pool with our birds to swim. Now since some of these new birds have just grown in their little blue feathers, this means it was their very first swim! Watching them go into the pool for the very first time was just like watching our chicks at Mystic Aquarium when they go for their first swims! First, they are not sure what to do and they roll around awkwardly in the water. But then sure in enough, in just a few short minutes they are diving and preening just like the big birds do! When all of the penguins had finished with their swim, we brought them back into their pen. I quickly checked through all the new birds as well and low and behold, who do I see? Why it's bird 630! My little chick that was just in ICU a few short days ago has now been deemed strong enough by the vet to be upgraded again! I knew he was special! I think that I might have to adopt him as one of the "adopt a Christmas chick" packages that SANCCOB offers. If you would like to also adopt a Christmas chick and help support SANCCOB in the raising and caring of these little guys, go to www.sanccob.co.za. They will send you a packet of information about your chick as well as a photo. They are a great way to help with the conservation of the species, support all the great work SANCCOB is doing and they make great Christmas presents for the penguin fans in your life. Now it was time for the petrels to swim and then the pelican. That meant it was my turn to learn how to handle them. Now the petrels weren't so bad. But pelicans! Who knew they could be so scary? I first entered his pen. Once you enter into his space, he immediately starts to clap his three foot long beak at you. When he quickly snaps it shut, it makes a loud clapping noise that was enough to make me think twice. I stayed brave, or at least pretended to be brave, and went ahead with trying to catch him up. The trick is to wait until after he snaps at you, then quickly grab onto his beak before he has time to snap again. Once you have their beak, they are pretty defenseless and will pretty much calm down and you can proceed easily from there. I successfully picked him up and took him to the pool to swim. I did it! The rest of the day continued on a similar schedule; tube fluids, fish, swim, tube formula and a few birds to nebulize too. In the afternoon, I think Beth decided I was really ready for some fun. She asked me to feed the pelican. Now of course a normal healthy pelican can catch up his own fish and swallow it down. But as we know, birds that do not feel well do not always want to eat readily, so sometimes you have to help them. How to help a pelican eat you ask? Well you take the fish in your hand and then put the fish, your hand, and well, your whole arm all the way down inside his beak and into his gullet! It was probably one of the strangest things I have ever done. But he ate his fish, and it must be helping him to feel better because during his afternoon swim he tried to fly out of the pool! When I had a few free minutes I went to go see if I could check up on little 680. I was worried about him over the last couple of days. Unfortunately the staff told me that he didn't end up making it. Poor little guy. He may have just been too weak or he may have had some other problems too. It is very sad and we always want to try and save each and every bird. But sometimes we have to understand that it just doesn't always work out that way. We just have to remember that each one we do help to save was given that chance because we took the time to help by using our knowledge and our skills and the population is now one bird stronger. And every little bit counts. After the long work day, all of the SANCCOB volunteers came back to our lodge. Many of them are leaving South Africa soon to return home. While everyone is still here they decided to all get together and have a traditional African braii, or a barbecue as we call it. Everyone brought their favorite grill items, side dishes, snacks and beverages. They fired up the grill here by the pool on this nice African summer night and shared stories, sang songs, told jokes and just relaxed and had a good time enjoying each other. It was great to get to know all of them outside of work and make some new friends. Until next time, cheers!|
Skittish African Penguins cross a road on Robben Island in South Africa.
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