Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Shedd Aquarium Staffers Working To Save Endangered #Penguins in Africa

By David Matthews on January 27, 2015

 Shedd Aquarium employees are feeding abandoned penguin chicks like these on the coast of South Africa. 
Shedd Aquarium employees are feeding abandoned penguin chicks like these on the coast of South Africa.  

MUSEUM CAMPUS — Shedd Aquarium is aiding with the rescue of abandoned penguins along the coast of South Africa, again extending the Loop museum's reach beyond the shores of Lake Michigan.

Since December, the Shedd has been sending employees to the southern tip of Africa to care for penguin chicks left astray by molting season, or the time of year their penguin parents lose their feathers and are unable to hunt for food in the wild.

Dave Matthews says the trips abroad are a thrill for staff:

The aquarium believes it's a worthy cause. There are only 30,000 wild African penguins left in the world, down from millions in the 1970s after decades of oil spills and commercial fishing.The aquarium estimates the species will be extinct within 15 years if the status quo remains.

Partnering with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, the aquarium has sent some of its staff to the continent on a rotating basis, and will continue to do so through early February. One of those employees, Mike Pratt, recently returned to Chicago after spending a month in South Africa, where he tended to as many as 200 penguin chicks a day.

Check out this firsthand look at the penguin habitat in this video from South Africa:

"Just to watch the birds progress after they come in sick and starving and get healthier and healthier, it’s an amazing feeling," said Pratt, an animal care specialist at the Shedd.Pratt, who normally tends to animals at the Shedd, worked on a team that sorted the chicks by health and size and fed them. The chicks' diet is simple: fish and an electrolyte solution similar to Gatorade. Pratt said 40 chicks were successfully released again into the wild during his month on assignment.

It's not the first time the Shedd has joined the cause. The aquarium helped save 20,000 penguins affected by a South African oil spill in 2001, and has partnered with other groups to assist other wildlife including beluga whale calves in Canada and Alaska, and coral in Florida. In a statement, the aquarium said it has "responded to animals in need for over two decades."

Despite the efforts, one expert believes much more needs to be done to save African penguins from extinction. Dee Boersma, a professor of biology and chair of conservation science at the University of Washington, said penguin chicks that are fed and released again into the wild have the same long-term survival rate as those fledgling in the nest. A better solution, she said, would be enlarging the marine protected areas around penguin breeding islands and other habitats. "There's not enough food to support these penguins," Boersma said. "Bolstering chicks won’t get you very far, but if they didn’t bolster them, they’d all die. It’s a worthy effort but it’s not enough."


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