Tenikwa Wildlife’s good work with penguin rehabilitation

Tenikwa Wildlife has been rehabilitating African Penguins for over a decade, since taking over responsibility from Eve Joubert who had been doing a stalwart job prior to Tenikwa’s establishment as a rehabilitation centre.

In those days, penguins were sent either to SANCCOB in Cape Town or through to the Eastern Cape’s two rehabilitation centres to be released on the nearby islands. In total, 512 penguins have been admitted to Tenikwa Wildlife since 2009.

Since Plettenberg Bay is within the natural range of the penguins, and to raise awareness that African Penguins do occur naturally in Plettenberg Bay’s ocean and along our coastline (although there are no colonies here), Tenikwa decided to approach Natures Valley Trust and BirdlifeSA in 2017 to partner in organising releases locally from Plettenberg Bay.  BirdlifeSA currently has an African Penguin project looking into the feasibility of establishing/re-establishing penguin colonies along the Western Cape coastline, and this forms part of the objectives of the National Biodiversity Management Plan(BMP) for African Penguins to curb and reverse the drastic decline of the African Penguin population over the last decade.

As part of the research and conservation initiatives supporting the African Penguin BMP, all penguins to be released are microchipped with a transponder. The unique serial number is registered in the national Transponder Database, much like that set up for bird rings. Most of the established colonies now have automatic readers active, and researchers and rehabbers are equipped with hand held readers. This means that when the penguins moves past the automatic reader, or researchers work in the colony, or whenever a penguin is admitted to a rehab centre, their unique number will be read and we can start to understand the movements of penguins along our coast, and ultimately start to provide solutions for their long-term survival.  Prior to release, as part of rehabilitation protocols which each rehabilitation centre must adhere to, the penguins also undergo several tests before qualifying for release, such as waterproofing, hydration levels, weight gain, blood tests and fitness levels. Samples from their feathers and other biological matter is taken and submitted to the National Biobank so that a genetic profile of each penguin is registered. All of this work is done at Tenikwa, as part of their preparation for release. A lot of effort and expense goes into the preparing of each penguin for release, but with a sharp decline of more than 70% in the last 5 years, every penguin that can be treated and returned to the ocean will make a direct contribution towards the sustainability of the species.

The first Plett Penguin Release happened in June last year and, subsequently, there have been three Plett releases. One of which was featured on National Geographic online; a total of 29 penguins have been released since June 2017.

The releases have been well supported by the community, with joint educational online media on the preparation of the penguins prior to the release, and a co-ordinated release event organised by Natures Valley Trust, and assisted by Orca Foundation. The communities, SANParks, CapeNature and conservation organisations within Plettenberg Bay are instrumental in finding penguins on our shores that require rehabilitation and bringing them to Tenikwa, where the wildlife hospital is manned by a full time veterinary nurse and managed by Dr Brendan Tindell from Robberg Veterinary Clinic.

Tenikwa, along with Nature’s Valley Trust, are currently preparing for the fifth release of 7-9 penguins (depending on health and fitness) on 21st September on Lookout Beach. The public is invited to witness these rehabilitated penguins waddling bravely back into the ocean. The opportunity to take part in the release is Tenikwa’s way of thanking the Plett community for their involvement in the conservation of the endearing and endangered African Penguin.

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