Press Releases

WWF South Africa Press Release, 30 June 2000


African penguins in dire straits

'The African penguin is currently facing its most desperate challenge ever,' says Dr Ian Macdonald, Chief Executive of WWF-SA South Africa. With the major breeding colonies on Robben and Dassen islands surrounded by oil from the sunken ore carrier 'Treasure', some 50 000 adults and 20 000 chicks are threatened with certain death from starvation or exposure which inevitably follows oiling – unless the birds are cleaned and rehabilitated. 'An estimated 40% of the world population of African penguins is at risk,' says Dr Rob Crawford of Marine and Coastal Management.

With the current world population of African penguins estimated to be less than 10% of the population 100 years ago, the species is listed as 'vulnerable to extinction' in the Red Data Book. Already, 12 000 oiled penguins have been collected and are being treated by SANCCOB. Fortunately, experience gained in the 1994 'Apollo Sea' oiling disaster has enabled all the local conservation organisations to improve their responses to these major catastrophes. Monitoring by the Animal Demography Unit at UCT has shown that SANCCOB is highly effective at rehabilitating oiled penguins and that these birds do breed once returned to the wild.

In order to prevent penguins on these two islands from becoming oiled, unoiled birds on Dassen island are being fenced in, captured and removed to the mainland. Too many birds will have to be removed to have them all handfed on the mainland. Accordingly, an innovative plan has been developed to transport the oiled birds to Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape in the expectation that the 10 to 14 days it will take them to swim home will be enough time for the authorities to clean up the oil. It is vital to find out if this untested method of saving penguins from oiling will work and how long it will take the birds to return to Dassen Island if indeed they do make this great trek home. It is known that penguins have a very strong homing instinct and that they are capable of such long-distance journeys.

On 27 June 2000, WWF-SA approached SAP Africa, the leading company in e-commerce and inter-enterprise software applications to fund three satellite transmitters that will be fitted to penguins released in Algoa Bay. SAP Africa's Managing Director, Mr George Oertel, approved the donation on request and said he was 'only too happy that SAP Africa could make an immediate contribution towards validating this innovative conservation intervention.' Dr Rob Crawford of M&CM will be in charge of this tracking experiment.

WWF South Africa has a long history of supporting the Southern African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB): it helped establish SANCCOB in 1968 and has been funding it and helping it in other ways as and when asked to do so, ever since. SANCCOB, which is primarily a volunteer organisation, has established itself as a world leader in seabird rescue.

The movements of the three penguins will be continually updated on the SAP map that can be found on UCT's Animal Demography Unit's website:

WWF-SA is calling on all concerned individuals, and sectors of business and industry to help limit the effects of this disaster. Please send donations to WWF-SA PENGUIN APPEAL either by crossed cheques/postal orders to WWF-SA, PO Box 456, Stellenbosch 7599 or by direct bank transfer to ABSA Stellenbosch, Branch Code 334410, Account Number 40-5178-1879.

Don't let this threatened species become extinct!

Please note: The Afrikaans name of the World Wide Fund For Nature is: Wêreldnatuurfonds.

For further information: Ms Christine Riley
Manager: Communications
Tel: + 27 (21) 887 2801