South Africa: African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary

It’s been five months since I returned from South Africa and I have already planned my next trip there beginning in July 2019 – it’s such a beautiful country filled with an abundance of awesome marine life that I just couldn’t stay away. Whilst I was volunteering with White Shark Projects, I got the opportunity to visit other amazing wildlife conservation projects, such as the South African Shark Conservancy, but for this blog post we will focus on the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary which a part of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust.

apss 2

This little spot is a great place to visit if you’re in the area, whether on holiday or just passing through. If anyone is interested, volunteer placements are also available with the APSS and would help to make a massive difference.

I got the opportunity to interview Theanette and Trudi from the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) last year to find out more information about their work.


What are the largest threats currently facing the African Penguin population at Dyer Island and how can the public help to reduce these threats?

Overfishing in the penguin foraging areas. The public can assist by helping to apply pressure on authorities to proclaim more Marine Protected Areas around island colonies or to campaign for at least some exclusion zones for fisheries.

Habitat restoration is vital and the deployment of new artificial nests on Dyer Island will assist with increased breeding success. Public donations go towards investing in these artificial nests.


What is the most common reason for penguins and sea birds being admitted to the rehabilitation programme at the APSS?

African penguin chicks are admitted mainly due to two reasons:

  • Extreme Weather Events: After heavy rain some nests on Dyer Island unfortunately get flooded. The penguin chicks do not have the ability to thermoregulate yet and they will therefore die of exposure if we do not intervene.
  • Abandoned African Penguin Chicks: Chicks can be abandoned before they are ready to fledge by their moulting parents. African penguins moults once per year – if the parents start moulting before their chicks are independent, these chicks will die.
  • Dehydration: Seabirds are more commonly admitted for dehydration and starvation.

The hand rearing and subsequent release of these penguin chicks are part of the conservation measures implemented to try to stabilise their population.

Adult seabirds are frequently admitted for seal bite words, emaciation and dehydration.


apss 6How long, on average, does each bird remain at the APSS? Are the majority released back to the wild?

We aim for a month, but penguins with bad wounds may have to stay for longer periods as we cannot release them unless they are water proof and all of their feathers have regrown. The African penguin chicks usually stay for a period of about three months.


What are the main reasons for a penguin not being released back into the wild?

  • Blindness
  • Impaired flipper movement
  • No longer waterproof

Each penguin has its own unique personality and character, but is there one case that sticks out in your mind as being particularly memorable?

Ntlantlha (isiXhosa meaning Lucky) was blessed.

While on a visit to Dyer Island with CapeNature in November 2016, the APSS team spotted, what looked like a red-breasted African penguin emerging from the ocean. Blood was streaming from a gaping chest wound inflicted by a seal. We immediately applied a pressure bandage and evacuated the penguin to the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary.

Our attending vet, Dr Marc Walton, arrived for his weekly visit at the same moment that the ‘penguin ambulance‘ pulled into the APSS with treatment beginning immediately.

Luckily for Ntlantha there was no damage to any of her major organs. The wound was cleaned and the very large skin flap was structured back into place, changing the red-chested African penguin back into a proudly black & white suit – although our black line alignment was slightly out!

apss 5

Through this series of very fortunate events, Ntlantha was given a second chance, although the road to recovery was long. With a large wound, like the one Ntlantha suffered, we have to ensure that the wound heals, and that the penguin is waterproof before we can return them to the wild. This normally means that we have to wait for the penguin to undergo their annual moult before we can contemplate a release.

The story of the African penguin is riddled with bad news – their numbers are continuing to decline – but Ntlantha is living proof that there is always hope.


apss 4Can people volunteer with the APSS?

People can volunteer at the APSS.

It is essential to understand that most of the work at the facility involves cleaning and scrubbing. Penguin volunteers need to be trained as African penguins are known to pack a nasty bite.

We often need volunteers that are willing to assist with other tasks like fundraising or administration duties, even assisting with keeping our garden in shape will be helpful.


How can people help support the work of the APSS?

The cost of rehabilitation for one penguin is approximately R1000.00 (~£56). However, if a chick stays with us longer then the cost of their rehabilitation is higher.

If you visit this website – https://www.givengain.com/c/dyerislandtrust/ – you can donate towards the rehabilitation costs at the APSS. The work we are doing is trying to rebuild the African penguin population and people can buy a booster block with their name on our sponsorship wall. Of course bigger donations are always welcome as well. #GiveToSave

People can also visit the APSS and enjoy some coffee and cake or buy a few penguins gifts from our penguin gift shop.


I’d like to say a massive thank you to Theanette and Trudi at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary in Kleinbaai, South Africa for taking the time out to answer my questions for this article

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