Monday, May 18, 2015

A job strictly for the birds

Copy of ca p8 Penguins done INDEPENDENT MEDIA GIMME SHELTER: You can t blame penguins at Boulders for being protective in the past tourists have trampled their nests and chicks while sightseeing. Picture Cindy Waxa
Cape Town - Calford Zodzi rolls up his sleeves revealing a series of mean scars on the inside of his forearms. The 29-year-old nature conservation student hasn’t been in a fight – he’s just come off second best trying to escort a reluctant penguin into a safer area.

It’s part of his job as a penguin monitor at Boulders in Simon’s Town to ensure the birds don’t stray into areas where they are vulnerable to being attacked by dogs or hit by cars.

He is doing his BTech at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

Originally from Zimbabwe, Zodzi studied tourism after school but his heart was in conservation – and he loves penguins. “They are special. Penguins attract people from all over the world who come here just to see the African penguin.”

They’re also in decline, with only 21 000 breeding pairs left in the wild, although Boulders, which has around 3 500 penguins, has started to report a slight increase in numbers in the past two years.
Copy of ca p8 penguins-Calford Zodzi done BIRDMAN OF BOULDERS Calford Zodzi, monitor supervisor of penguins at Boulders beach, notes the bird s mood and number. Picture Cindy Waxa INDEPENDENT MEDIA
It’s thanks in part to the monitors who have helped reduce the number of mortalities by rescuing them from high risk areas.

Zodzi is the supervisor and works with three other monitors.

They carry out penguin “sweeps” three times a week which involves scouring the area around Boulders hunting for errant penguins that have deserted the relative safety of the colony to find a breeding spot more to their taste.

Zodzi and his colleagues find themselves crawling through thick and thorny vegetation to find the penguins and also look for stray chicks and eggs which are taken to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob).

This is also the dangerous part of the job when the penguin uses its beak, flippers and feet with sharp claws to hit out. “They always go for the soft part of your arm, but we don’t mind being bitten,” he says with a chuckle.

Part of the monitors’ jobs is also to prevent zealous tourists from leaping over the railings to touch the penguins.

They operate mostly along Burgher’s Walk, an area next to the park where a group of penguins have been breeding on public land.

The area has undergone a transformation in recent years. Section ranger Monique Rothenberg said the area was used as a dump site. “There was all this old rubble and cement. We cleaned it up and removed all the exotic grasses and put in indigenous plants.”

She said that prior to 2008, the area was mainly used by local residents to walk their dogs and there had been several incidents where penguins had been attacked and killed.

What was also problematic was the increase in the number of tour groups in recent years. “You’d get busloads of 60 people who would stand in the burrows and trample on the nests. When they left there would be penguins dead in their nests and chicks that had been killed. “People would also pick up the penguins for photographs and land up getting bitten.”

The Burgher’s Walk Restoration Project was undertaken by SANParks, the City of Cape Town and Sanccob to protect these penguins.

Funding goes towards the management of the terrain, the rehabilitation of penguins at Sanccob, the salaries of penguin monitor staff, and the upkeep of the fencing and the formalised path.

Zodzi and his colleagues are also responsible for rescuing injured, oiled or at risk penguins and other birds, and have been trained in basic animal husbandry and first aid.

Cape Argus


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