30 September 2010

A special day for African penguins

Renée Leeuwner
Zuki, our African penguin ambassador

Renée Leeuwner is the Aquarium’s tourism co-ordinator. She’s a keen blogger, a member of the Aquarium’s Green Team and the voice behind our Twitter profile.

Tomorrow, 2 October, South Africa will celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day.

My involvement with penguins, African and other, dates back to the late 1990s.

In 1995, I started as a volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium. By 1997, I was one of the few “seal volunteers”, which meant that I had the opportunity to spend my days not only with the our four Cape fur seals (Daisy, Dosy, Mullet and T), but also with the African penguins in the Sappi River Meander.

In 2000, by then employed by the Aquarium, I was one of hundreds of people who spent their nights feeding oiled and recovering penguins at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), after the devastating Treasure oil spill. It was a humbling and tough experience and one, I assure you, no one who volunteered during this time will easily forget.

On the Aquarium’s penguin beach in the Sappi River Meander, we currently have 11 African penguins. Each penguin has a name and can be identified by the unique spot pattern on their chests.

In our exhibit is Neptune, the one with the black smudge on his neck. Neptune’s mate is Alan, a petite female with a small spot just above her neckline. Faraday is easily recognised by the two spots on his neck, and he dotes on his mate, Dorris. Then there are George and Gaia, Chuck and Belinda, and Diesel and Tasmyn.

Zuki brings up the total to 11. She is the only tame African penguin and often visits our offices and the classrooms where she acts as an ambassador for her species.

By the way, we are launching our exciting new Penguin Encounter – an opportunity for you to come into contact with these gorgeous birds – tomorrow. You can win a Penguin Encounter worth R350. Read this article to find out how.

But why do African penguins need an ambassador and an entire day dedicated to them?

Because they are in deep, deep trouble and somehow people need to hear about their plight. Some scientists forecast that African penguins will be extinct in the wild within the next 15 years. Thereafter, you will only be able to see them in places like the Two Oceans Aquarium. That Sunday drive to Boulders Beach will be just that – a drive.

There are many reasons for this rapid decline in penguin numbers. The most notable is human impact. We’ve all come to realise that our oceans are overfished. This not only means that there isn’t enough fish for human consumption; it also means that there is longer sufficient food for marine animals like penguins, seals and dolphins.

Years of guano collecting off the penguins’ traditional breeding islands have left penguins vulnerable and exposed on their nests. Oil spills and pollution are also continuously contributing to the decline in penguin numbers.

In a nutshell, this is why African penguins are totally entitled to a specially dedicated day and a very special ambassador to show people that penguins need our help.

It is actually quite easy to help these birds with their comical walk and tuxedo suits. Do yourself a favour and log onto these websites: www.dict.org.za, www.penguins-rescue.org.za and www.sanccob.co.za. These organisations are dedicated to the conservation and rehabilitation of African penguins. You can sponsor a penguin, adopt a penguin or even buy a penguin a home.

All of this will help to secure the future of African penguins so that, in 15 years, we won’t have to mourn the loss of another truly special and spectacular species.

Support African Penguin Awareness Daay and support the future of African penguins.

More blogs by Renée:

•    From Brunei to Bellville, banish rubbish from beaches
•    It’s a fish eat fish world
•    Joseph the cheetah visits the Aquarium
•    Aquarium staff rub shoulders with Leon Schuster!

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