At any given time throughout the year, endangered African penguins can be found along the Indian Ocean coastline of Plettenberg Bay. For many, it is not always fun and games in the water and sometimes they require immediate assistance.
Assistance in the form of rehabilitation of the birds varies. Most birds that require assistance in Plett are either sick, injured, moulting or have what is referred to as “flat battery syndrome”. Penguins can be affected by a range of illnesses, but the ones most often encountered locally appear to be babesia, a tick-borne blood parasite, and avian malaria. Injuries range from minor cuts and scrapes that may affect mobility or waterproofing of feathers, to more serious wounds inflicted by either other animals, or by entanglements or boat propellers. Moulting birds come ashore to grow a new set of feathers, during which time they cannot swim as their waterproofing is affected. Being on the mainland means exposure to predators, both natural and companion animals, so birds are safely kept in captivity until their moult is finished. The flat battery cases are often down to bad body condition (underweight) and dehydration – they just need some TLC to get back on track and that’s where Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre comes to the rescue.
Once rehabilitated the town celebrates with a release of penguins that have completed their rehabilitation and relaxation journey – R&R. Through the combined efforts of Tenikwa, Natures Valley Trust, local veterinarian specialists, the Bitou Municipality, and Plett Tourism, the releases take place throughout the year, on average once every 2-3 months.
Tenikwa microchips every bird that is released, which enables them to track if a particular individual comes back into rehab, is located by researchers at one of the breeding colonies or washes up dead on our shore. The Natures Valley Team has a mobile scanner and tries to scan every dead penguin reported to them. In addition to the rehabilitation team at Tenikwa, local veterinarian specialists are also present when the penguins are released. The WESSA Beach Stewards, CapeNature, ORCA, Birdlife Plettenberg Bay and beach authorities from the Bitou Municipality are also key stakeholders who help facilitate the process. And the team at Plett Tourism provide a live-stream platform for overseas and local viewing of the release.
Sadly, not every penguin that comes into rehab can or will be able to be released back into the wild. Tenikwa has a few long-term captives that are a permanent part of their animal collection, and that play an important role in educating the public about these beautiful birds. Others sadly succumb to their illnesses or injuries.
The latest release on Saturday the 20th of March encouraged Plett locals and a few visitors to make their way down to Lookout Beach to witness the release, this is one of Plett’s premier Blue Flag beaches.
IMAGE (compliments of Elle Redmond from Elle Photography)