Monday, May 21, 2018

Saving the African Penguin

Aviculture Curator Aimee Greenebaum worked for several weeks with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB)—the leading conservation organization working to recover this endangered species. African penguins, which stand around two feet tall, don’t hail from the land of snow. The weather at the southern tip of the continent is a lot like Monterey, Aimee says.

She spent hours each day hunched on a stool, in pens that held 70 or 80 rescued penguins, corralling one bird at a time between her knees. Many required force-feeding.

“These are wild penguins,” she explains. “Our penguins on exhibit know to take fish from our hand. Wild birds aren’t going to do that.”

African penguins can bite hard enough to draw blood, and an angry one will hang on and beat you with its wings, Aimee says. Besides coveralls and goggles, Aimee wore protective gear on her arms to guard against bites, and a leather glove on one hand. The other hand, she says “is free to grab fish and force it down their throat.”

The day she released some of the penguins she’d helped care for, her team went to Boulders Beach, in Cape Town. They opened several transport boxes near the water’s edge and watched the birds walk into the ocean.

The wild African penguin population has fallen by more than 97 percent in the past century.

“It’s thought there used to be over a million breeding pairs, and now there are only 25,000,” Aimee says.

One factor is overfishing, which has left Africa’s only penguins with less food.

--Excerpted from Future of the Ocean

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