During the 20th century the total population of Black-footed Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) fell by nearly 90%. In 1956 there were 147,000 breeding couples, whereas numbers today are estimated at less than 27,000 couples. On Dassen Island alone, north-west of Cape Town, numbers have gone from about 1.5 million penguins in 1910 to less than 30,000 in 1990.
There are several factors in this dramatic decline. Its origins lie in activities that are now banned (hunting, egg-collecting, the gathering of guano, which the penguins need to make nests, to sell as fertiliser). Today penguins face new threats: pollution (oil dumping and spills), the dwindling of their food sources due to over-fishing and tidal changes, competition with sea lions for food and breeding sites, and being hunted by invasive species (wild cats).
SANCCOB* is working to preserve the species on two fronts: by helping reinforce wild colonies by releasing young penguins that have been reared by hand, by taking care of and rehabilitating birds affected by oil pollution, by protecting the penguins’ habitat and monitoring the different colonies.
Why raise black-footed penguins artificially?
At the end of every annual breeding season, late-born chicks are abandoned by their parents, either because the latter are beginning to moult (which means ceasing to feed their young) or because they want to flee the rising heat. SANCCOB takes in these malnourished chicks, which would otherwise die, and bring them up in a specialised nursery, reintroducing them into the colony once they have their full plumage.
In addition to the program for strengthening the wild populations, SANCCOB carries out disease surveillance and conducts research on the pathologies that may affect the species. It is also developing an educational program for schoolchildren and visitors to its rehabilitation centers.
The Zoo de La Palmyre has helped finance SANCCOB since 2009.
*Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds
© L. Hosten, SANCCOB.