Over the past few months I have had the chance to spend some time volunteering at the SANCCOB facility in Cape St Francis. Unfortunately, of the 15 seabird species that breed in South Africa, over half have decreasing populations and have a threatened status according to IUCN. SANCCOB stands for South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, and is a non-profit organization whose main aim is to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of ill, injured, abandoned and oiled seabirds. SANCCOB was founded in 1968 by Althea Louise Burman Westphal and Dr Roy Siegfried, and since then has saved over 95 000 seabirds of 25 species. SANCCOB is multifaceted, being involved in rescue, rehabilitation, chick rearing, education, training, and research. There are two facilities in South Africa, one in Table View, Cape Town, and the other in Cape St Francis. A number of African penguins were oiled earlier this year and sent to the SANCCOB facility in Cape St Francis, and the ORCA Foundation staff and volunteers made the drive to assist wherever we were needed. That first trip especially was an eye-opener into the huge amount of work that goes into each bird. Washing of oiled birds aside, which has its own long story, the day to day running of the facility is an immense amount of work. There is cleaning of pens and crates, washing copious numbers of towels, blending batches of fish formula, preparation of syringes water, darrows solution, and fish formula, washing dishes, and syringes, defrosting boxes and boxes of sardines, preparing fish, and medications, all while keeping to a time schedule. Depending on the age and health of the penguins (the focus for now) they have a feeding regime of what and when they will receive (fluids, solids, and/or medication) that needs to be adhered to. Then there is dealing with the birds themselves, us donned in sexy green oil slickers, wetsuit armbands, gloves and safety glasses, the penguins as their incredible selves. They are unbelievably resilient, able to survive severe injuries, with a little help of course, and even perhaps not at full health, they are strong! There is a good reason behind the mandated safety gear, and even then I have returned home bruised, and on one occasion bleeding, from their vicious rejection of our assistance. Days at SANCCOB are long, busy, and hard work, but they are so rewarding! I have a huge amount of respect for the outstanding staff of SANCCOB, who are on the forefront of the battle to save the African penguin, and other seabirds.
Written by: Minke Witteveen
For further reading:
- Crawford, RJM. 2013. Long-term change in the population sizes and conservation status of South Africa’s seabirds. Ostrich 84: v-ix.
- 2016. History. Accessed: 2016-12-04. URL: https://sanccob.co.za/about-us/#history.