One project Mark Brown, Director of the Nature’s Valley Trust, is very excited about is the establishment of new colonies of African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) closer to home. That is near Plettenberg Bay.
Words by Tania Anderson . Images by Mike Bridgeford
The African Penguin has declined in numbers by 90% over the past two decades, probably as a result of commercial fisheries and shifts in its prey populations. It was listed as Endangered by BirdLife International in 2010, and the downward trend in its numbers is showing no signs of reversing.
To boost their numbers, BirdLife South Africa and its partners are currently working on establishing new colonies along the Western Cape coastline. In Plettenberg Bay there are more extensive stocks of the penguins’ favourite prey: Sardine and Anchovy. As part of this process, Nature’s Valley Trust – together with Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre, BirdLife South Africa and BirdLife Plettenberg Bay – released five rehabilitated African Penguins on the 10th of June at Look Out Beach, Plettenberg Bay. The aim was to increase public awareness of African Penguins in the Bay, their plight, and what can be done to help them.
The first preparation for the release was to set up the enclosure for the penguins. It was an open type enclosure to make sure that the penguins acclimatized to their surroundings well for two hours prior to release. The pubic could admire them at a non-threatening distance. Mark Brown explained to the public that these five brave penguins were the first to be released after rehabilitation in Plettenberg Bay in over a decade.
The full stories about the rehabilitation of the five penguins at Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre was shared on BirdLife South Africa’s Facebook page before their release so people could get to know them. And so Mr Afri Can-Penguin, Mr A Penguin, Mr Pen Quin Bond, Ms Peng Flipper, and Mrs. Spheniscus Demersus became famous.
Mr Afri Can-Penguin ended up at the rehab centre after his 2ndbirthday celebrations got a bit out of hand, landing him in the cold ocean waters while moulting. With little insulation, the moulting period for penguins is a necessary but very vulnerable stage of life. On the day of the release his moulting process was finished and he could properly maintain his body temperature again! Mr. A. Penguin, famous surfer, was found beached several kilometres away, close to the Knysna heads, with a badly injured foot. Mr Pen Quin Bond was found on a beach in Plettenberg Bay with a badly shredded penguin suit. They later learned of his dramatic altercation with Stephen Seagull, internationally wanted serial (penguin) killer. As he went through the annual moulting of his suit he was attacked by Seagull – perfect timing. Bond passed out from the cold and Seagull got away. He was kept warm and dry while his feathers grew back. Ms Peng Flipper, an Olympic swimmer, was the survivor of a brutal attack during a training session from what may have been a Great White Shark. She was treated for her injuries, which were partial damage to her abdomen, which was affecting her ability to stand on her left leg. She underwent extensive therapy to strengthen her leg. Mrs. Spheniscus Demersus started to feel ill while traveling the coast with her family. It turned out that, much like human malaria, avian malaria is transmitted by infected mosquitoes. She eventually passed out and was rescued from the beach by a very kind man. The treatment of the avian malaria went without a hitch
As soon as the enclosure gates were opened, the penguins walked straight towards the sea . A leader was born as Pen Quin Bond led the group into the ocean and as soon as they touched the water they swam away at great speed – joyfully free again.