By Philip Knowling
Torquay, UK - A conservation project supported by a Devon zoo is fitting satellite transmitters to wild African penguins in an attempt to learn more about the species.
The first juvenile African penguin ever to be fitted with a satellite transmitter was released into the wild off the coast of South Africa at the end of June.
The bird, named Lucy, was hand-reared by SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), an organisation supported by Living Coasts Aquarium.
Torquay’s coastal zoo is part of Project Penguin, a conservation and research programme set up by Bristol Zoo Gardens in collaboration with SANCCOB, the University of Cape Town’s Animal Demography Unit, the South African government, Cape Nature and other local and international partners.
The release is one of five planned over the coming months as part of the Chick Bolstering Project, designed to investigate the behaviour of juvenile birds and learn about the pressures they face in early life. The goal is to use chicks abandoned by their parents and hand-reared to create new colonies close to areas of high prey abundance.
Living Coasts Director Elaine Hayes said: “One of the problems African penguins face in the wild is the movement of fish stocks away from the waters in which they have previously been found. We think this is being caused by climate change. The project to establish new colonies could help save the species.”
The transmitter is expected to relay the bird’s position for about six months. The device was attached to feathers on the bird’s back. Dr. Richard Sherley, who is heading the research component of the project, said: “The device will simply drop off once the glue wears off, or when the bird moults at around 18 months. Hopefully, by that time we will have learnt some vital lessons about what these young birds do at sea.”
SANCCOB veterinarian Dr. Nola Parsons, who coordinates the project and oversees chick rearing at SANCCOB, said: “This bird has the potential to give us so much valuable information about the movements of African penguin fledglings. This work is essential in improving the way in which we manage this species”.
By the end of her first night at sea, Lucy was already about 40 kilometres offshore, west of Robben Island in Table Bay. She has since been more than 70 kilometres out to sea.
As well as supporting Project Penguin, Living Coasts donates sums raised by on-site activities to SANCCOB. The coastal zoo is also part of the European Stud Book for African penguins, which means that all breeding is coordinated with collections across Europe.
African penguin colonies are declining at an alarming rate, mainly due to a lack of food caused by over-fishing and by the movement of fish stocks away from the colonies - the latter quite possibly as a result of global climate change.
For more information go to www.livingcoasts.org.uk or ring 0844 474 3366.
To view Living Coast Aquarium's web page on Zoo and Aquarium Visitor, go to: http://www.zandavisitor.com/forumtopicdetail-786-Living_Coasts