Friday, June 18, 2010

More on SA's Recent Cold Weather Penguin Disaster

Cold snaps SA

Jun 17, 2010 3:35 PM | By Sapa

Ice on Sandton's roads, penguin chicks struggling to cope with cold rain, snow, and frozen football pitches took South Africa by surprise during the first week of the World Cup soccer matches.

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Hogsback, Eastern Cape
Hogsback, Eastern Cape
Photograph by: Errol Parrish

On Thursday, the coldest towns in the country were Deneysville and Villiers in the Free State, recording temperatures of -13.4 degrees Celcius according to Weathersa.

Alexander Bay in the Northern Cape recorded winds of 46km/h, with warnings of black frost -- melting ice -- on many of the country's roads, making travel perilous. blogger Sean Ingle wrote on Thursday morning: "Last week the temperatures in South Africa were pushing 25c - today, however, Ghana's training session was delayed for two hours due to frozen pitches at their training base north of Rustenburg."

In Algoa Bay near Port Elizabeth, extreme cold, wind and heavy rain killed 600 African penguin chicks on Bird island.

The Salvation Army, which usually plans for higher demand for help during winter, said it had noticed an increase in the number of people arriving at its soup kitchens.

"I think this is our first real cold snap and we have seen numbers increase in the city [Johannesburg]," said spokesman Garth Niemand.

They had sent thousands of blankets across the country and had noticed that those queuing were mostly the poor, homeless and single mothers trying to get something extra for their children.

Anyone who wants to help can donate blankets, clothing, children's clothing and dry ingredients for soup such as beans, soup mix, soya and oil, at one of their outlets and they will be distributed where needed.


Too cold for penguins

Jun 17, 2010 2:27 PM | By Sapa

Extreme cold, wind and heavy rain has killed 600 African penguin chicks on Bird island, a reserve located in Algoa Bay near Port Elizabeth.

Fifteen African penguins from uShaka Marine World
Fifteen African penguins from uShaka Marine World 
The 19-hectare island is administered by SA National Parks as part of the Addo Elephant National Park.
"Penguin chicks started dying on Tuesday, when extremely cold weather, coupled with strong winds and heavy rainfall hit the Eastern Cape," SANParks regional communications manager Megan Taplin told Sapa.

The number of chicks that had died had risen to 600 by Thursday morning.

Data from a weather station on the island showed temperatures over the past three days ranged between 8.8 and 12 degrees Celsius, with wind speeds gusting up to 95km/h.

"The total rainfall for the three days was 63.2mm, which is an abnormally high amount for this area at this time of year.

"Park rangers stationed on the island used all means possible to alleviate the situation in the absence of assistance from land due to rough seas.

"They provided temporary shelters for penguin chicks using materials on the island, and also drained penguin nests of excess water where possible," she said.

Asked how the penguins had died of cold, when their Antarctic cousins survive long winters and sub-zero conditions, Taplin said African penguins did not shelter their chicks in the same way as those down south.
"Although the penguins do live in burrows, some stand out in the open next to the adults. The chicks are between a few weeks and two months old, and have only a down-feather covering, and when they get wet they die of hypothermia caused by wind chill."

"The recent drought in the Eastern Cape means the island's vegetation, which would usually offer some protection, is now sparser than usual."

When the weather cleared on Thursday morning, rangers had used a helicopter to airlift two injured adult penguins and five abandoned chicks to Port Elizabeth.

"They will be taken to a specialised penguin rehabilitation centre for treatment. Rangers will assess the situation on Bird Island again tomorrow (Friday), when they are able to reach the island by boat.

"A decision will then be taken on whether to evacuate more penguin chicks for rehabilitation."

Taplin said the death of penguin chicks due to extreme weather was a naturally-occurring phenomenon, and one in which SANParks did not usually interfere.

"In this instance, however, the number of chick deaths was higher than usual. The African penguin is classified as an endangered species, so we took action," she said.

There are about 700 African penguin breeding pairs on Bird Island.

Penguin chicks on nearby St Croix Island were minimally affected by the recent weather, with only 19 deaths recorded.

SANParks say the island's conical shape - unlike Bird Island's relatively flat topography - ensured a quick run-off of rainwater, thus sparing the chicks the worst effects of the weather.

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