Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving Penguin Release!

As many people I know are sitting down and giving thanks on this Thanksgiving, I found myself sitting in the back of a pickup truck with five boxes traveling down the highway. I was hanging out with a bunch of birds, only they weren’t turkeys.
Anyone bring the directions?

Precious cargo aboard!

Today I had the opportunity to help release some African penguins that had spent time at SANCCOB. Many of the nine penguins released were birds that had been abandoned by hungry parents and were fortunately brought to the center. The staff and volunteers (including me!) have been nursing them back to health and today they would make their grand return to the sea.

Before they could go, each bird had their numbered tag removed, was weighed and measured then painted with a bright pink dot. This paint, which will only stay on for a couple of months, identifies this bird as one that has been rescued and released.

Pink bellies for easy ID

Once everyone was packed up and ready to go, we headed south to Simon’s Town, famous for its Boulder’s Beach. There is a rare mainland breeding colony here and where four of our birds, coincidentally, were rescued. So it was fitting that on a bright sunny day we would be bringing them home.

Our destination

We arrived at the beach, got the boxes set on the sand, managed to keep the excited on-lookers at bay and then released the birds. Some of them were a bit resistant to leaving the boxes but after a bit of a shake, the penguins were out of the boxes and headed to the sea. Fortunately for the younger birds, there was an adult with them and after the younger birds watched the adult make a beeline for the water, they quickly followed. The group swam off together around the bend and after climbing to the top of the cliff, we could see the ground headed towards the open part of the bay.

Out of the boxes

Ready to hit the water
It’s hard to know what the fate of these penguins will be. I hope that they do well, settle in Boulders and grow to have chicks of their own. I know it’s an uphill battle but thankfully SANCCOB is there to help these animals when they need it. I’m also thankful that I got to be a part of that experience today. After feeding and taking care of these birds for the past week and half, it’s fantastic to see them swim in the open. I know that SANCCOB has many more chicks to bolster and more birds to rehabilitate. But at least nine penguins are back where they belong thanks to SANCCOB. And for that, I am thankful.

Home at last

Learn more about the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, or SANCCOB and their Chick Bolstering Project

Follow the adventures of Jo's co-worker, Paul! Aquarium penguin biologist Paul Leonard is also in South Africa to study and care for African penguins in the Southern Hemisphere! Read about his experience on the Penguin Blog.


  1. What a wonderful way to spend Thanksgiving! I hope the penguins do well in the wide world.

  2. What a fortunate experience--for you AND the birds!Thanks for helping to revive a species. Maybe these nine will make a difference!

  3. Aww! that is so cool, lucky penquins. Hopefully they will do well & the rest to follow.