After a month at the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary 16 of the 41 abandoned African penguin chicks removed from Dyer Island were returned. On 11 November the chicks were removed and returned to Dyer Island On Sunday 13 December 2015. The African penguin chicks can now start their journey in the wild after a “little help from friends”. With less than 2% of the original African Penguin population left in the wild the removal of underweight chicks & chicks of moulting parents and hand raising them is but one part of the bigger African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan.
According to Xolani Lawo, Senior Bird Rehabiltator at APSS the 32 days, 5940 and 256 man hours involved in getting these chicks back to the wild was worth the effort. “The African penguin needs all the help they can get to stabilise their population numbers. Every bird counts and we are committed to make a difference” said Lawo. Research has shown that birds that have been rehabilitated and released in this way have a survival rate comparable to that of naturally reared chicks. All the chicks were fitted with transponders to ensure that research into the success of the project can continue.
The African penguin chicks were returned to Dyer Island with the assistance of Dream Catcher, the Dyer Island Cruises boat and Happy Feet, a rubber duck specifically donated by Nautic Africa for the purpose of returning penguins to the island.
African penguin chicks are not abandoned because African penguins are bad parents, in actual fact they do a really good job to raise and feed their young in spite of some challenging circumstances. October-November is the end of the breeding season; chicks are supposed to be fat & healthy and ready to be kicked out of the nest to start fending for themselves. The parents are faced with a dilemma, not only do they have to feed their young, they also need to undergo a full feather change. This means that they have to build up enough fat reserves to stay on land for their entire moult because they are not waterproof during that time and therefore they cannot hunt. Due to a variety of circumstance, sometimes the parents start their moult before their offspring has reached the fledgling stage. These chicks will either starve to death on the island or venture into the ocean without the required amount of fat reserves to allow them to survive the challenges of the wild.