Penguin Release in South Africa / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Georgia Aquarium’s Partnership with SANCCOB to Save African Penguins

Featured photo by Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

While many people associate penguins with cold climates, the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is found in much more temperate climates, as it is naturally found along the coastlines of South Africa, Mozambique, and Namibia.  Unfortunately, African penguins are considered an endangered species, and the population’s decline has been consistent and has shown no signs of reversal.  Per IUCN, the current population is estimated to include at about 50,000 mature individuals, a 60% drop in the past 30 years.

Penguin Release Site, the Stony Point Nature Reserve / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Penguin Release Site, the Stony Point Nature Reserve / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

IUCN cites that growth in the commercial fishing industry is the main threat to this species in the wild.  As more fish are caught from the oceans, penguins are forced to travel farther out to sea to find enough prey to sustain themselves and their offspring.  Oil spills from commercial fishing vessels are another side effect of the growth of this industry, and they are also a serious threat to the species.

Penguins Cared for at SANCCOB Facility / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Penguins Cared for at SANCCOB Facility / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

One organization that has been working to save the African penguin for many years is the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), and the Georgia Aquarium has been supporting SANCCOB in various ways since 2009.  Each year, SANCCOB rescues and rehabilitates up to 1,500 penguins, and on average, of those 1,500, between 600 and 900 are stranded chicks that require long-term rehabilitation and rearing.

Penguin Release in South Africa / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Penguin Release in South Africa / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

At the beginning of December, penguin care team members from the Georgia Aquarium traveled to South Africa to assist SANCCOB in the treatment of the first wave of stranded chicks, which consisted of about 400 birds.  The Georgia Aquarium has had 26 African penguin births since 2012 through the AZA Species Survival Plan, which has allowed aquarium staff to share expertise and veterinary research with SANCCOB over the years.

Penguin Release in South Africa / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Penguin Release in South Africa / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Also during their visit to South Africa, penguin care team members assisted in the release of 23 rehabilitated penguin chicks that had previously been rescued, reared, and rehabilitated by SANCCOB.  In 2015, SANCCOB’s African penguin chick rescue program achieved an 85% success rate.

Penguin Before Release / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

Penguin Before Release / Georgia Aquarium / Addison Hill

The Georgia Aquarium has also provided financial assistance to SANCCOB over their 7-year partnership, and to this day, the aquarium has donated more than $250,000 to help fund this organization.  During their trip to South Africa, aquarium staff presented SANCCOB with a $40,000 gift.

African Penguin at Georgia Aquarium / Georgia Aquarium

African Penguin at Georgia Aquarium / Georgia Aquarium

In Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium has been able to connect over 18,000 guests with African penguins through its Penguin Encounter program.  In the program, guests not only meet penguins but also learn how the aquarium, SANCCOB, and other partner organizations are working to save this endangered species.  Interaction programs like these at other zoos and aquariums help guests appreciate animals and learn how to protect their wild counterparts.




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