With just 20 000 breeding pairs of African penguins left and a very real danger they may be extinct within two decades, significant efforts are under way to save and preserve the birds.
As part of this, the Ford Wildlife Foundation (FWF) has provided the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) Port Elizabeth Centre with a locally built Ford Ranger Double Cab 4×4 for a period of two years. The loan vehicle will assist the organisation’s efforts to protect critically endangered African penguins and threatened seabirds.
SANCCOB is a registered non-profit organisation whose primary objective is to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue and rehabilitation of sick, injured and oiled seabirds, including the endangered African penguin and threatened species such as the Cape gannet, African black oystercatcher, cormorant and tern. Once the birds have fully recovered, they are released back into the wild.
“We are delighted to extend our support for SANCCOB, building on our existing relationship with the organisation’s main centre in Cape Town through the loan of a ‘Built Ford Tough’ Ranger for its important conservation programs,” says Conrad Groenewald, director of Sales Operations at FMCSA and chairman of the FWF.
“SANCCOB Port Elizabeth does important work all along the Eastern Cape coast rescuing and rehabilitating African penguins and seabirds. With this facility located close to our Struandale Engine Plant where all of our engines used in the Ranger are produced, it further strengthens our support for the organisation, and its important role in providing wildlife conservation and education,” he adds.
The SANCCOB Port Elizabeth Centre is based in the 366-hectare Cape Recife Nature Reserve on Marine Drive in Summerstrand, with its pristine beach and 170-year-old lighthouse being key tourist attractions. The facility is open to the public and provides educational tours and popular daily feeds for the penguins as one of its most important fund-raising mechanisms.
The centre also features a new purpose-built rehabilitation pool with six pens, as well as a seabird hospital with a surgical theatre and intensive care unit (ICU).
“With the dangerous decline of the African penguin population, the importance of securing the breeding colonies in Algoa Bay cannot be overemphasised,” says Margot Collett, manager of the SANCCOB Port Elizabeth Centre. “From a global population of roughly 1-million breeding pairs at the beginning of the 20th century to just 20 000 breeding pairs today, it is estimated that at the current rate of decline, African penguins in the wild could be functionally extinct in the next two decades.”
To address this critical issue, in December 2019 SANCCOB and South African National Parks (SANParks) appointed a Penguin and Seabird Monitor in the Addo Elephant National Park Marine Protected Area (MPA).
The monitor is stationed on Bird Island, and monitors the seabird colonies on St Croix Island and Bird Island which fall within the Addo MPA. St Croix is currently home to the largest breeding population of African penguins in the world, however the number of breeding pairs has seen a steep decline, and SANCCOB’s conservation and rehabilitation measures are crucial for their long-term survival.
The MPA Seabird Monitor identifies and rescues sick, injured, and oiled birds as well as abandoned penguin chicks and ensures that they are admitted timeously and effectively for treatment at the SANCCOB facility.
The birds are often malnourished and dehydrated due to a shortage of sardine and anchovy, the African penguin’s preferred food. The number of birds being brought off the islands for rehabilitation and admission has been increasing, and this is projected to climb further now that Addo MPA Seabird Monitor is based on Bird Island.
In February 2020, the Ford Wildlife Foundation adopted two African penguins at the SANCCOB Port Elizabeth Centre, and named them Ranger and Raptor – with the adoption fees going towards the feeding and care of the two penguins.