"The chicks... from land and island-based penguin colonies... were abandoned by their parents and in danger of starving to death," IFAW spokesperson Christina Pretorius said in a statement.
"This is the largest number of chicks the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sancobb) has cared for at one time since 2007 when 481 abandoned chicks were treated," she said. A rescue team retrieved 236 chicks from Stony Point, 155 from Dyer Island and 24 others from various colonies on Wednesday.
They were taken to Sancobb, where they would be hand-reared for about six weeks before returning back to their colony.
"On several penguin colonies, chicks that hatch late in the season are frequently abandoned by their parents when the weather grows warmer and as food supplies diminish," Pretorius said.
"The problem is exacerbated by the fact that remaining adult penguins begin their annual moult at this time of the year. During moulting the penguins shed their old feathers and grow new ones, leaving them not waterproof and therefore unable to swim, catch fish and feed their chicks."
Sancobb CEO Venessa Strauss said that hand-reared penguin chicks showed a higher record of surviving to breeding age as well as higher productivity, compared to those fledged in the wild.
African penguin populations hav declined by more than 60% in the last three generations, Pretorius said.
The sharp decrease led to African penguins being classified endangered rather than vulnerable.