Orphaned South African penguin chicks saved from starvation

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More than 800 endangered African penguin chicks have been saved from starvation in South Africa as part of a conservation project led by the Bristol Zoological Society.

Conservationists working on the Chick Bolstering project took chicks from a number of colonies and hand-reared them to ensure their survival. Around 500 were taken into temporary captive care in November and December alone, after being identified as underweight and unwell due to abandonment by their parents during the moulting period at the end of the breeding season.

African penguin colonies are declining at an alarming rate – the present population is only 2.5% of its level 80 years ago. Overfishing and the movement of fish stocks away from the colonies has resulted in a shortage of food.

Around 150,000 breeding pairs of African
penguins were counted in 1956, but last year the total had plummeted to
only 19,000 pairs – a loss of nearly 90% in half a century.

For the chicks, abandonment before they are of fledging age is a real danger, with cold weather already causing issues for their survival.

Dr Christoph Schqitzer, head of research at the Bristol Zoological Society said: “This is a huge effort to conserve an endangered species and every chick is vitally important. Unless conservation organisations intervene, these chicks would starve to death.

“The African penguin is on a downward spiral anyway due to lack of food near their nesting colonies, and there is a substantial risk that this species could eventually become extinct.”

Penguin chick
A penguin chick being cared for. Photograph: Francois Louw/Bristol Zoo Gardens and The Wild Place Project

The chicks were admitted to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) for hand-rearing. They are typically rehabilitated for up to three months until they reach a healthy condition and are the correct weight. They are then released back into the wild.

Vanessa Strauss, conservation director at SANCCOB, said: “Research has proven that hand-reared chicks fare as well as naturally-reared chicks in the wild. With less than 19,000 breeding pairs left in the wild in South Africa, African penguins are an endangered species and it remains critical to save every individual possible to bolster numbers in the wild.”

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Kaynak: http://www.underwatertimes.com/link.php?url=http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/03/south-african-penguin-chicks-saved-from-starvation

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