THEIR comedic waddle, their flightless vulnerability, their enduring parental care . . . who could fail to care for these charismatic African penguins?But for those still unsure of a penguin’s charm, there is one seabird rehabilitation centre in particular which could change their minds. The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) in Cape St Francis, has an infectious passion for protecting penguins - especially the African penguin. Smitten and captivated by their antics, the centre is on a mission to raise awareness and help save these special and endangered birds: a job that is rewarding and stressful in equal measures.“The African penguin, this continent’s only indigenous penguin species whose status was upgraded from Threatened to Endangered in 2010 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to a very rapid population decline, is in danger of becoming extinct - and it needs all of our help and support. Now,” says SANCCOB Marketing and Fundraising Coordinator Kerry Bell-Cross.According to Bell-Cross, only 1% of the entire African penguin population and fewer than 23 000 breeding pairs are left.Two of the biggest threats today, says Bell-Cross, are oil spills and overfishing. “Oil spills are an environmental catastrophe where they happen. For penguins, oil separates and mats the feathers and results in a loss of waterproofing. Simply put, oil can kill birds that rely on waterproofed feathers.“Cleaning and nursing a bird back to health is a long and meticulous process that takes three to four people per bird. Only when the bird has had a full health check, is oil-free and has re-waterproofed its feathers can it be safely returned to the wild. Re-waterproofing can take up to eight weeks.”Add to that marine pollution, which is also a major problem not just for penguins, but also for all wildlife that lives and relies on the oceans.“Plastic such as bags, bottles, and fishing nets can be mistaken as food and eaten, or can entangle the bird,” says Bell-Cross.Then there is also, historically, penguin theft and guano collection.SANCCOB is Cape St Francis is currently home to 33 home pen birds that cannot be released into the wild due to various reasons, 10 long term birds and 23 birds in rehabilitation.Consuming up to 10 fish per day, the average rehabilitation cost per bird amounts to a whopping R7 000, says Bell-Cross. A costly affair for a non-profit organisation.“In a non-spill year, the centre typically treats between 300 to 350 birds, with more than half of the birds admitted being penguins from the two colonies Bird and St Croix Islands in Algoa Bay, Port Elizabeth, which collectively support 60% of the global African penguin population,” says Bell-Cross. Visitors to the centre situated next to the Seal Point Lighthouse, are welcome to the souvenir shop and enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour.Educational programmes at SANCCOB include the Wild About Exploration lessons, where they strive to educate local schools about the integrity of the marine environment. Forming part of the Walk along the Wild Side Schools Programme, groups of all ages are received at the centre.For more information, contact SANCCOB in St Francis Bay at 042 298 0160. Adopt a penguin ‘Adopt’ and name a wild penguin (R600), or choose one of the home pen birds (R1 000) which live permanently at SANCCOB because they cannot survive in the wild.By ‘adopting’ a penguin, residents make a much-needed donation towards the work of SANCCOB and thus play a vital role in saving an African penguin.By adopting and naming an African penguin that has, or will be, rehabilitated and released back into the wild, residents make a valuable contribution towards the work of SANCCOB. The donation helps cover the cost of fish, medication, water and other essentials. By adopting a home pen bird, adoptees will help SANCCOB maintain and provide an excellent quality of life for birds that cannot be released back into the wild. The new ‘parents’ are welcome to visit ‘their’ penguin at the Cape St Francis seabird rescue centre. Volunteer Help feed and care for young and injured seabirds , or assist with driving, cleaning, education and marketing. Donate Any monetary donations - no matter how small or big - can make a world of difference. Urgently needed items are just as important as monetary donations.