|Thanks for hanging with us today!|
Today I found myself back with the African penguin chicks that belong to the chick bolstering project. These are the birds that are healthy enough to be out of ICU but aren’t large enough or strong enough to hang with the big boys. Since I’ve worked there last, more chicks have arrived so the larger chick group has been broken up into two smaller groups. There are the larger chicks and then my group—the smaller birds and ones that have lost feathers…or the “baldies”.
|My assignment for today|
Before we could begin the regimen of feeding, cleaning, tube feeding, swimming and more cleaning, all of our birds had undergo their weekly blood draws. It sounds horrible but it’s a simple blood draw similar to the finger prick you get at the doctor’s office. A small blood sample is taken and then tested for things like blood cell counts, protein levels and examined for traces of parasites or diseases, such as malaria. Fortunately for the birds, the people that hold them and the people that have to get the blood sample, the whole process is done once a week on Monday mornings.
|Next patient please|
After we got a blood sample from the birds, it was on to swimming and feeding. Some of the birds would get a bit chilly after a short swim, but that’s because they don’t have any feathers! In the pen we have birds that have all or just about all of their waterproof feathers, some that still have a big patch of downy feathers and then some that have only a few feathers at all. (You can learn more about the stages of molting with these posts about the penguins back in Boston.) These are the “baldies” and are bald due to a condition called feather loss disorder. The folks at SANCCOB and elsewhere are trying to figure out what is causing this particular affliction. Though it looks pretty devastating, the chicks do grow their feathers back in a couple of weeks and look good as new!
|"Baldie" with feather loss disorder|
In addition to seeing the blood draws for the first time and spending some time with the “baldies”, today was also my first day tube feeding. Talk about high pressure! Many of the chicks need additional hydration and nutrition throughout the day and tube feeding them is a big part of the SANCCOB daily schedule. So today was my day to learn. Wow. I thought feeding was intense-it’s got nothing on tubing! But after some patient mentoring by one of the experienced volunteers and a bit of practice, I managed to give a few penguin chicks their penguin Gatorade!
Feedings, learning to tube feed, making sure penguins swam okay, cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning. Needless to say I’m a bit tired after my manic Monday filled with African penguin chicks. Unfortunately, I won’t have any more manic Mondays but still have a few precious days at SANCCOB left. I’m so thankful for everything that I’ve been able to see so far and know that the my last few days at SANCCOB will be filled with new things to learn!
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.