A small fish is dangled in front of an emaciated penguin in a South African clinic, enticing the bird to eat and regain strength. This is just one of many efforts taking place in the coastal town of Gqeberha, where a dedicated rehabilitation center is working tirelessly to save African penguins from the brink of extinction.
“Caitlin van der Merwe, a seabird ranger at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), explains, “We are trying to reverse some of the human damage caused to these birds over the years.” Threatened by climate change and human activities, African penguins, known for their clumsy movements on land and remarkable swimming abilities in the water, have experienced a severe decline in numbers.”
“Three decades ago, approximately 50,000 mating pairs of African penguins inhabited the shorelines of South Africa and Namibia. Today, that number has dwindled to a mere 10,000 pairs, signifying an alarming 80 percent population decrease. This decline is of great concern to zoologists, as a healthy penguin population serves as an indicator of a thriving marine ecosystem. Carl Havemann, the head of the penguin clinic, remarks, “The species declining means there’s a big issue in the marine environment.””
“The clinic is currently bustling with avian patients. In the past two weeks, around 40 baby penguins have been transported to the clinic from Bird Island, an islet that hosts one of Africa’s largest penguin colonies located approximately 60 kilometers off Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth). Heavy rains have devastated the island, washing away nests and chicks. Traditionally, the black and white birds nested in a thick layer of guano, a mixture of droppings and remains that accumulates over time. However, the guano has been extensively harvested for use as natural fertilizer, leaving the penguins with less secure options such as branches or cracks in rocks for their nests.”
“During the first three months of their lives, the penguins are covered in a vulnerable gray plumage that offers minimal protection against water and cold. Consequently, many of them have drowned or succumbed to hypothermia due to the recent heavy rains. “With climate change, weather events are becoming more and more extreme, and these obviously impact the natural colonies,” explains Havemann.”
“The dedicated clinic staff and conservationists continue their crucial work, striving to reverse the decline of African penguins and ensure a brighter future for these iconic birds.”