An introduction to these little birds!
On the afternoon of the 8th June we visited the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary (APSS) where we helped with the general care and feeding of the penguins undergoing rehabilitation at the centre. African penguins are flightless, aquatic birds which are endemic to coastal areas of southern Africa.
The body is streamlined with modified wings that resemble flippers, which enable them to be efficient swimmers, and a thick coat with overlapping feathers that assists with waterproofing, wind resistance and insulation. The African penguin has experienced rapid population declines over the past century as a result of over exploitation for food, habitat modification of nesting sites, oil spillages, and competition for food resources with commercial fishing. As a result, it is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
During our visit to APSS we began by preparing the fish that we were going to use during feeding time. We had to ensure that we only placed defrosted fish in the feeding tray. Our duties included the completion of the daily feeding sheets. These sheets are used to record all data about the amount each penguin eats per feed, any medication required, and any observations made during the feed.
At feeding time, the penguins are guided into the feeding area. The penguins housed at the sanctuary are fed twice per day – birds on the way to recovery usually consume about four fish per feed. All the penguin patients that are held in the conditioning pen and are being prepared for release, must eat in the morning but during the afternoon feed it is not uncommon for them to eat less, or show no interest. The penguins are guided into the feeding area and fed by placing the fish into the mouth of the penguin. The protocols of the APSS is based on a foundation of minimum handling of birds.The handlers and feeders must always be mindful that the African penguin has a razor-sharp beak that can exert a good amount of pressure, so any slip in concentration can lead to a penguin bite that will leave a cut on your finger or your arms.
Once the feeding is done its time for a swim. The penguins are guided into the pool. The penguins must swim after every feed – this is not only to aid digestion but also to rinse any fish blood from their feathers. A penguin’s feathers are crucial for their amphibious lifestyle because they are essential to provide waterproofing and insulation. Every step in the care of these wild animals is to ensure their healthy return to the wild.
The penguins in the pre-release pen are fed first, thereafter it is time to take care of the chicks that are being hand-raised at the APSS. The chicks are housed in pens under heat lamps. Before feeding, the fish are filleted into small pieces and all bones are removed, this ensures that the chick can use all the energy gained from the feed to grow and not to digest the hard fish bones. As the chick grows and gains weight, they get fed larger pieces of fish until they are at the age where they can eat whole fish. Until that time they are fed an amount of food equal to 10% of their body weight as well as a rehydration solution and extra vitamins.Once they were fed the chicks were placed back into a clean pen. Pens are specially prepared for the chicks with adequate towelling on the bottom and around the sides of the enclosure to ensure that they stay warm.
We enjoyed the time that we spent at the APSS and the experience that we had in playing a small part in this vital conservation effort.