Media Release: Bird Island penguins given relief
17 June 2010
After heavy losses of penguin chicks due to extreme winds and cold, wet weather, the colony of African penguins on the Addo Elephant National Park’s Bird Island in the Eastern Cape has been given relief by clearing weather.
Penguin chicks started dying on Tuesday, 15 June 2010, when extremely cold weather, coupled with strong winds and heavy rainfall hit the Eastern Cape.
The number of penguin chicks that died had reached 600 by this morning.
Park rangers stationed on the island used all means possible to alleviate the situation in the absence of assistance from land due to rough seas. Rangers provided temporary shelters for penguin chicks using materials on the island and also drained penguin nests of excess water where possible.
As the weather started to clear this morning, two injured adult penguins and five abandoned penguin chicks were airlifted from the island by helicopter and transported to Port Elizabeth. The penguins will be taken to a specialised penguin rehabilitation centre for treatment.
Rangers will assess the situation on Bird Island again tomorrow when they are able to reach the island by boat. A decision will then be taken on whether to evacuate more penguin chicks for rehabilitation.
Meanwhile, the 3 000 penguin breeding pairs on St. Croix Island have been minimally affected by the weather with only 19 chick deaths recorded. St. Croix Island’s conical shape ensures quick runoff of rain water thus sparing chicks from the worst effects of the weather.
The Bird Island penguin colony was badly affected by the weather due to a combination of both cold and wet weather and the island’s flat topography which leads to collection of rainwater.
Penguin chicks are at a vulnerable age on the islands as they are aged between a few weeks and two months old with only a down feather covering, making them susceptible to wet weather.
Although the death of penguin chicks due to extreme weather is a naturally-occurring phenomenon, the effects on Park’s colonies are worrying considering the recent reclassification of the African penguin as an endangered species.
Addo Elephant National Park’s St. Croix Island is home to the largest breeding colony of African penguins in South Africa while Bird Island harbours a penguin colony of about 700 breeding pairs as well as the largest Cape gannet breeding colony in the world.
South African National Parks
Megan Taplin, Regional Communications Manager, Addo Elephant, Camdeboo, Karoo, Mountain Zebra National Parks, tel: (042) 233-8609, cell: 083 650 8649, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org