Waddle lot of freedom
Rehabilitated penguins in Plett poised for release this weekend
Eleven stranded African penguins are set to waddle their way to freedom come 28 July when they will be released on Plettenberg Bay’s Lookout Beach after having been nursed back to health by local experts.
The group of marine birds – two adults and nine juveniles – is part of a release programme by the Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation and Awareness Centre, Nature’s Valley Trust and Birdlife South Africa. The penguins had been found stranded along the Garden Route coastline over the past few months and had undergone rehabilitation at Tenikwa.
This will be the fourth release of its kind over the past year and has not only been a conservation initiative, but also an educational tool for communities to get involved in such efforts.
Tenikwa veterinary nurse Hanlie Roux explains that the penguins had been found on beaches in Plettenberg Bay, Nature’s Valley, Knysna and Goukamma.
“We believe they might be from the Port Elizabeth penguin colony and that they had come all this way for food. Food seems to be plentiful in the Plett area while other areas appear to be suffering from overfishing,” Roux says.
She adds that most of them ended up in the area exhausted and had been brought to the centre for various reasons including injuries, disease and moulting. One of the penguins had an injury to its foot while another suffered a bite from a predator along the hip area. One also had a very serious case of tick bite fever. Depending on the severity of each case, the birds remain at the centre for rehabilitation for anything from a few weeks to several months.
The rehabilitation process and release process is a mammoth task. Roux explains that the birds are nursed back to health and are assisted to gain fitness and confidence to take on the ocean again. Therefore the penguins programme includes daily swimming and exercising. Other measures include waterproofing their feathers to ensure they can spend extended periods at sea without losing body temperature.
Roux says as part of the release protocol, each penguin would need to have gained sufficient weight – tipping the scale at between 2.6kg and 2.8kg. Their blood is also analysed to ensure they do not carry any blood-borne diseases and that they don’t have any health issues.
Before their release, each penguin is photographed to capture their chest plumage as a method of “double marking”. Every African penguin has an individual spot pattern. Double marking refers to the fact that each penguin will also get a transponder to identify them.
The penguins’ measurements are also noted and these including the length of their bills, heads, flippers, girth, bodies and feet.
As a run-up to the release, the Nature’s Valley Trust will be publishing a story on each of the penguins on their Facebook page Nature’s Valley Trust.
The release of penguins into the wild is always a joyous occasion with many people in Plettenberg Bay rocking up for the experience.