Last month – from Tuesday 12 to Thursday 14 January – almost 1 700 Cape cormorant chicks were rescued from Robben Island after being abandoned by their parents.
While the cause of the abandonment remains unknown, Dr Lauren Waller, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds’ (Sanccob) seabird conservation scientist, says there could be a range of reasons.
“Seabirds will not readily abandon their nests, particularly if they are incubating eggs or brooding chicks. Seabirds will abandon if their own survival is at risk, and reasons for this can include heat stress, disturbance, predation threat and lack of food.”
She says investigations are still under way, but it has been confirmed by constant monitoring of the Robben Island site that the breeding birds did not return, “thus abandoned permanently, leaving their chicks exposed to the sun and predation by Kelp gulls and Sacred ibis”.
The good news is that most of the rescued chicks have survived; a win for conservation. The bad news is that the number of surviving chicks and the care they require outweighs what the staff at Sannccob can provide.
Sanccob needs your help to ensure the survival of these chicks – and the future of the species could depend on it.
Ronnis Daniels, the head of communications and individual giving at Sanccob, explains: “The wild population of Cape cormorants has more than halved in the past 30 years and the declining trend continues. Even though there are still more individuals of Cape cormorants in the wild compared to the African penguin, the species is as in danger of extinction as the iconic African penguin.”
She adds that the Cape cormorant, which is native to the south-western coasts of Africa, forage in very large groups. This means that a further decline in the number of birds could lead to a more rapid decline as smaller groups of cormorants may breed and forage less successfully.
“It is, therefore, important to make sure we keep relatively large numbers of these endemic birds in the wild (the Cape cormorant only breeds in South Africa, Namibia and in southern Angola),” Daniels explains.
This puts significant pressure on the staff at Sanccob to ensure the survival of the remaining 1 168 surviving chicks.
Sanccob is calling on caring residents of Cape Town to pitch in to save the chicks. About 40 volunteers are required per shift.
“Shifts are 07:00 to 13:00 and 13:00 to 18:00, seven days a week. Volunteer numbers are decreasing daily and Sanccob is eager for members of the public to come forward and help out on-site at the Table View facility. Tasks include fish preparation, cleaning stations for mats and crates, and laundry. With consistent volunteering, training can also be undertaken to work more hands-on with the birds,” Daniels says.
Anyone can volunteer as no qualifications are required. Training is provided and inexperienced volunteers will start with day-to-day tasks.
Daniels adds: “We need volunteers all days but struggle even more on the weekends.”
With the number of chicks having stabilised, and the growing birds consuming approximately 380kg of sardine per day, more hands are needed on deck.