A new penguin colony is being established at the De Hoop Nature Reserve in the Overberg region of the Western Cape, with the help of penguin decoys and penguin calls being broadcast over loudspeakers.
This historic and ambitious project is the fruit of a collaboration between BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and SANCCOB who have worked tirelessly since 2015 to find a region to establish a new penguin colony. The release of 30 wild African penguins into the reserve recently signifies a critical step forward after years for the project.
The wild African Penguin is under severe threat. As fish stocks plummet throughout in the oceans around South Africa, the penguins’ food sources become more and more limited which causes a dip in breeding habits.
BirdLife South Africa, CapeNature and SANCCOB collaborated to release the penguins into the wild. In order to ensure the penguins breed in the same place, they are released as fledglings because once African penguins start breeding at a location, they return there year after year.
“By releasing fledglings, we hope they will return to De Hoop to breed when they are ready to do so in 3 to 6 years,” said Dr David Roberts, Clinical Veterinarian at Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). “In 2015 when BirdLife South Africa began investigating whether it would be possible to establish new African Penguin colonies, the De Hoop colony was chosen as an ideal candidate site.”
To entice penguins to re-colonise the area naturally, life-like penguin decoys and penguin calls being broadcast by loudspeakers help create the impression that penguins are breeding there.
The African penguin is only found on the south-western coast of South Africa and are also referred to as the Cape Penguin or the South African penguin.
In addition to the released birds being individually marked with Passive Integrated Transponders for post-release monitoring, two African penguins were fitted with GPS trackers to monitor their movements immediately after release.
“We received an unusually large number of African penguin eggs earlier this year and it was a tall task to hand-rear so many chicks at once. Events like this one indicate the trouble that African penguins are in when extreme weather conditions and lack of food cause adult birds to abandon their nests to save themselves”, Roberts said.
“This release, which will hopefully be the first of many, is the culmination of many years of work so I’m immensely excited to see it finally happening!” said Christina Hagen, the Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation at BirdLife South Africa, who has been running the project since 2015. “Although there are more years of hard work ahead of us, it is an important step to take now, as every year we wait, we lose more and more penguins,” Hagen added.