Cute as ever, Miss Harold Custard weighed just 60g when she hatched on 23 September 2016 - only the second northern rockhopper penguin to ever successfully hatch in South Africa. She is no longer little!
Tomorrow is her first birthday, let's look back at our youngest penguin's first year with SANCCOB and on the beach of the Penguin Exhibit, brought to you by Old Mutual Finance, at the Two Oceans Aquarium.
A castaway love story
In nature, northern rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes moseleyi) nest on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Islands - more than 2500km from South Africa. Despite being the smallest of the crested penguins, it is not uncommon for young rockhoppers to wash up on the South African coast after surviving this journey.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is home to seven of these rescued northern rockhoppers, unable to be returned to the wild after being exposed to potential pathogens from South African waters. For two of these rescued penguins, Roxy and Grommet, it was love at first sight. Penguins are monogamous, and Roxy and Grommet are no exception - proudly flaunting the Aquarium's cutest romance.
Preparations began immediately for the month ahead in anticipation of the new chick's hatching. We had learned a lot from Clax (the first rockhopper penguin hatched in captivity in South Africa) and knew we needed the support of SANCCOB to avoid any complications caused by the inexperienced parents.
During the egg's incubation we regularly candled the egg, holding a light behind it to monitor the chick's growth. Before we knew it, it was almost time for the egg to hatch and we contacted SANCCOB, who took the egg for incubation at their Chick Rearing Unit.
Roxy and Grommet did well, sharing the responsibility of incubating the egg. Roxy and Grommet were given a fake egg when we handed theirs to SANCCOB - they didn't even notice the swap!
How a hatchling got her name
A few days later, SANCCOB volunteers noticed a pip in the eggshell. A tiny beak with a yellow tip was seen poking through. SANCCOB staff gently helped the little chick to break free of her egg.
At this point the tiny rockhopper did not have a name. Rockhopper penguins have orange beaks, but as chicks their beaks have yellow tips, only changing colour when they get older. As this was the first rockhopper chick SANCCOB had ever worked with, the yellow beak seemed like a novelty compared to the black beaks of the African penguins they are more familiar with. They nicknamed her "Custard".
When Custard got bigger, she developed quickly and even had a "B.A. Baracus hairstyle". Some of her behavioural quirks led staff to believe she was a male, so she was officially named "Harold Custard".
Sex identification is not easy with young penguins as males and females look the same. When a DNA test was done, the results revealed that Harold Custard was in fact female. That’s when they added a "Miss" to her name calling her "Miss Harold Custard".
A forever home
After a few months under the care of the SANCCOB team, it was time for Miss Harold Custard to come home. It was decided that it would be best for Miss Harold Custard to remain at the Two Oceans Aquarium, so as not to put any wild colonies at risk.
At 4 months old, she demanded that we feed her before the other penguins - she can be quite a diva, but we love her anyway. She would squeak constantly until a staff member sat with her. As she got older her braying call got deeper and louder and she quickly became one of the loudest birds on the beach.
This little princess has stolen the hearts of many who with her and has quite a curiousity for all things human-related. Her favourite objects are clipboards, paper and pens. There are days when Aquarium staff feed the penguins and she will run up to them, avoiding the food and instead trying to steal an unguarded pen.
In the mornings, if she is not greeted on a one-on-one basis by a staff member, she will sulk and not interact with anyone for the entire day. But, if you give her love she will return it in abundance.
Rockhopper penguins usually walk or hop but this little one gallops and leaps - her enthusiasm for all things is clear. Even her swimming is just a teeny little bit erratic.
She is the complete opposite of her sister Clax. Clax is moody, enjoying her privacy and choosing a part of the beach for herself where she does not need to interact with other penguins often. Custard on the other hand loves being the centre of attention, readily approaching staff and visitors and quickly befriends other penguins - especially Hopper.
Miss Harold Custard has even met some celebrities, like Tracy Morgan and his family when they visited South Africa on holiday in January.
She's actually become a bit of a celebrity herself in the process - making it into South Africa;s national news.
Miss Harold Custard has a black beauty spot on her left leg which is easy to identify. She likes to stand on the rocks in the afternoons and often stands at the gate in the mornings. Be sure to say hi to this little diva on your next visit – Happy Birthday Miss Harold Custard.
Without the incredible work of SANCCOB, few of the precious seabirds at the Aquarium would have survived the perils they faced. SANCCOB have ensured the survival of over 95 000 distressed birds.
In fact, almost a quarter of all the remaining African penguins are alive today because of SANCCOB!
You can help SANCCOB continue their incredible work by supporting the construction of their desperately needed seabird hospital in Cape Town - Miss Harold Custard says you can help SANCCOB instead of buying a birthday present for her!