Penguin rangers to the rescue

Penguins at Boulders beach on Friday February 21. Picture: Charles Dagnall

The City of Cape Town and Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) are working with two conservation groups to save the African penguin.

While the Simon’s Town African penguin population is the most stable at present according to the City, it is still under huge threat of extinction with less than 3% of its original population remaining.

The City and TMNP are working with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and the Cape Town Environmental Educational Trust (CTEET) to employ penguin rangers to monitor penguins, rescue sick and injured birds and tend to abandoned nests and eggs.

According to mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, Marian Niewoudt, the African penguin population has declined steadily, with only 1 000 breeding pairs left on the Simon’s Town coastline, and the penguin is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Reduced food sources, habitat destruction, pollution, oil spills and natural predators were aggravating the decline, she said.

While the penguins are a favourite with tourists, human
contact can change the bird’s habit and prevent them from reproducing or returning to their nests, threatening the survival of their offspring.

Penguins are especially susceptible to disturbances during breeding, which is from January to March, and molting season is from October to December. These periods overlap with peak tourist season.

“Penguins in molt are unable to go to sea for about a month as they replace their feathers and if they are forced to go into the water, they are at risk of dying from exposure,” she said.

CTEET CEO, Dr Anthony Roberts, said they had had a memorandum of agreement with the City to place staff on various conservation projects on City land since

He said penguins leaving the Boulders colony and venturing into the roads and gardens were at high risk of being killed, and appointing rangers to operate outside the protected areas was a good way to prevent that.

The rangers are appointed by CTEET but report to the City and their salaries are covered by Sanccob through fund-raising efforts.

Sanccob spokesman, Ronnis Daniels, said Sanccob raised funds to jointly employ the rangers with its partners.

“The rangers monitor the colony birds and nests, and rescue, stabilise and transport ill or injured birds to its facility in Milnerton,” said Mr Daniels.

They also have rangers at Stony Point, Robben Island and Bird Island.

Arne Purves, the senior professional officer of environmental compliance for the City’s environmental management department, said the penguin rangers mostly encountered penguins with foot injuries, mostly caused by predators, rough sea conditions when entering or leaving the colony, or similar blunt force impacts.

The penguin rangers will also rescue sick or emaciated birds, and occasionally birds with broken or injured wings.

“Occasionally, we encounter birds that are entangled in plastic or fishing line. As long as the bird is not physically injured or sick the offending material will be removed and the bird released immediately,” Mr Purves said.

Rescued birds are cared for at the Sanccob facility before being released back into the wild.

Should you wish to become involved in the project or wish to make a donation, visit the Sanccob website at or call 021 557 6155.