#ShockWildlifeTruths PICS: Oil slicked penguins removed from Addo Islands

Cape Town - The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), are facing an emergency after more than 150 penguins have been affected by an oil spill in the Bay surrounding Port Elizabeth. 

Over the past two days, SANParks says they have rescued 45 penguins off Bird and St Croix islands, which form part of the Addo Elephant National Park, after an oil spill adjacent to St Croix on Sunday, 14 August. 

The park’s marine rangers retrieved the birds from the islands, after rangers stationed on Bird Island alerted park authorities to finding oiled birds on their nests.  

The assistance of the penguin rehabilitation centre, SANCCOB from Cape St Francis, was called in to assist.

The birds were initially treated on the island, and upon their return to land, were split between SANCCOB and SAMREC (South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre) in Port Elizabeth for further rehabilitation.

Some of the penguins were covered over 100% of their bodies.

Oil breaks down the natural waterproofing of a penguin’s feathers, so the bird cannot regulate its body temperature, either in the ocean or on land, often leading to hypothermia.

Oil also causes skin and eye irritation and when ingested (a natural reaction for penguins is to preen their feathers to remove the oil) can result in ulcers, a reduced immune system and organ failure.

Birds admitted to the centre are usually dehydrated, stressed and weak. They need intensive care to improve their strength and hydration, before being treated with a solution to break down the oil, washed and dried.

(Photo: SANParks)

(Photo: SANParks)

How can you help? 

Donations of old newspapers and towels are greatly needed. If you can help, please drop off these items at SANCCOB’s centre in Cape St Francis (next to the Seal Point Lighthouse) or at the Wimpy drop-off point in Jeffrey’s Bay.

"We are hoping that the cost of the actual rescue and rehabilitation work will be covered by shipping insurance, once the identity of the vessel is confirmed," SANCCOB says. 

SA low-cost airline Mango, along with The Herald, Tempest Car Hire and Colibri this week already donated several kilograms of toweling to the SANCCOB Pengiun rescue and rehabilitation centre in Cape St Francis. 

(Photo: Mango)

You can also support our work by adopting a penguin or becoming a volunteer at either SANCCOB or SAMREC

SAMREC asks that members of the public who come in contact with stranded seabirds, phone them on 041 583 1830 during business hours, and on 084 587 8346 after business hours. 

What can you do to help a stranded bird?

- Do NOT return the bird to the sea
- Please keep dogs away and please do not crowd the bird
- Do NOT feed or give water
- If possible, please wait for help to arrive

Although it is still unclear what the exact cause of the oil spill is, authorities are investigating the source of the oil. 

An additional support team from SANCCOB’s centre in Cape Town was deployed to Cape St Francis to assist with the rehabilitation of the oiled penguins and rescued chicks, while SANParks also deployed some of its rangers to the centre to assist.

The oil spill and penguin emergency comes ahead of the 9th International Penguin Congress (IPC), which will be hosted in Cape Town from 5 to 9 September this year.

The IPC is the primary gathering of the world’s leading scientists, research managers and policy makers working on penguin biology, ecology, health and behaviour to discuss ongoing research, identify current and emerging conservation issues and create action plans.

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