Thursday, February 21, 2013

Penguin population is decreasing

By Abby Mace
Campus Correspondent
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013

Whether she’s in Connecticut or around the globe, one thing is for certain: Laurie Macha will be working with penguins. For 20 years, the UConn alum (‘87, ‘91 CANR) has been pursuing her passion for penguins, working both as a supervisor at the nearby Mystic Aquarium and as a rescuer for the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

At the Mystic Aquarium, Macha’s role as supervisor is slower paced and more leisurely compared to the environment in South Africa where Macha and her fellow volunteers aim to save as many of the endangered birds as possible. The number of penguins in the South African effort far outnumber that in Mystic. Macha cares for 26 penguins at the aquarium compared to 60 in South Africa. The health of the birds is significantly worse in South Africa than in Connecticut.

Macha’s long time involvement in South Africa, however, is not just fueled by her love of penguins and her skill in taking care of them. There is a dire need to rescue these creatures because the African Penguin population has dwindled over the last century. Since Macha has been a part of the mission, she has seen a 64 percent population decrease in the last decade alone. Macha isn’t certain of the main factor contributing to this decline, but she noted climate change, food shortages and ocean pollution as possibilities in a recent UConn Today feature.

One event that impacted the penguin population was the oil spill of 2000 that occurred on the MV Treasure. More than 1,300 tons of oil were deposited into the waters near the shores of the Dassen and Robben islands, which are prime breeding grounds for penguins.

So what makes up a typical day as a SANCCOB volunteer? The orphaned penguins, which are rescued during November and December from breeding grounds and taken to the Rietvlei Wetland Reserve, must be kept under a close watch. Such high levels of supervision means intensive feeding, medicating and record-keeping routines for volunteers.

Laborious efforts aside, Macha’s experiences are undoubtedly rewarding, especially when she is able to release the once-struggling penguins into the wild- healthy at last. Although her two occupations, aquarium supervisor and wildlife rescuer, are vastly different, Macha couldn’t be happier. After all, she’s working with the penguins she adores.


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