Thursday, October 30, 2008

Saving Penguins


MAN-MADE penguin nests, which are successfully replacing eroded penguin habitat in the Southern and Western Cape, and which could soon be introduced in Algoa Bay, have now revealed another benefit.

Wilfred Chivell, director of Gansbaai‘s Dyer Island Conservation Trust, which makes the nests, was in Port Elizabeth yesterday to meet penguin conservation organisations.

The igloo-like nests are about the size of the wild nest of an African penguin – big enough for a small terrier – and are made of fibreglass.

The trust‘s nesting project in the Cape is flourishing, with 800 established on Dyer Island and 76 on Robben Island. They have also been established at Betty‘s Bay and the trust wants to put in 100 to help protect Cape Town‘s Boulders colony.

African penguins in centuries past used to create burrows in layers of guano, but this resource was stripped and sold as fertiliser by “white gold” traders in an industry which ran from the mid-1800s to as late as the 1980s.

The penguins were forced to nest in the open, beneath low coastal vegetation, which left their eggs vulnerable to damage and to predation by kelp gulls, Chivell said.

“Our nests were a response to that problem, but now we‘ve found they‘re of great value in scientific terms. The birds don‘t run away anymore – if there‘s a need to catch and weigh chicks, for example. We know which birds belong to which site and studying them is easier.”

According to what Chivell has heard of the situation on Algoa Bay‘s Bird and St Croix islands – key breeding grounds for the global population, which stands at between 45000 and 60000 birds – there seems to be a necessity for the nests in Algoa Bay as well.

“SANParks has jurisdiction over the islands and we first have to see what they think. But I am hoping to be able to visit Bird (island) in January and, if SANParks approves, we would be willing to donate the first 50 nests.”

The trust has commissioned University of Cape Town student Lauren Waller to monitor them after they have been installed. It was her work that revealed how valuable the nests are.

A similar system was tried in Namibia but petered out and the Dyer project is now unique across the global Southern Africa range.

Funding for the project comes from the public, with individuals or families “buying” a nest. If a project was approved for Algoa Bay, the same marketing model would be presented in Port Elizabeth, Chivell said.

Bayworld, meanwhile, is continuing its penguin conservation on a different front.

Oceanarium curator Robyn Greyling confirmed yesterday that a penguin fledgling had been brought in after being found stranded and weak at Maitlands. “It was not injured or oiled but dehydrated.”

The youngster was stabilised and tested for avian malaria. It will now be transported down to Ajubatus at Cape St Francis for rehabilitation and release.

Greyling praised Maitlands resident Kelly Hall for bringing in the bird. “If a member of the public can walk up to a bird, as happened here, and it does not dash into the water, then there‘s a problem and the quicker it is brought to us the better chance we have of saving its life.”

Story from The Herald Online @

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