Together with its South African and international partners, we are conducting research to determine the factors that lead to breeding site fidelity in African penguins around the Western Cape. The ultimate goal of these studies is to develop a methodology for establishing new breeding colonies of penguins in places that are more suitable for their long-term survival.
Many people think penguins only live in cold and icy parts of the world. African penguins, however, live along the hot, sandy coasts of southern Africa.
Oiling is the biggest single threat to African penguins. Oiled penguins lose the water-proofing on their feathers and swallow the oil as they try to clean themselves. Ships use seawater to clean out their tanks at sea which causes more pollution than an oil spillage.
Oil spill disasters create instant crises. In 2000 the cargo ship The Treasure sank off Cape Town leaving 20,000 African penguins covered in oil.
We help oiled penguins by supporting the South African charity SANCCOB. Each year, 1000 oiled penguins are brought to SANCCOB’s rehabilitation centre near Cape Town. Volunteers at SANCCOB help to de-oil and clean them, nurse them back to health and then release them back into the wild. This takes up to 6 weeks.
In partnership with University of Bristol we undertake observational research on our Bristol Zoo Gardens’ penguins which supplies information that helps in understanding wild penguins behaviour.
For the past four years high-tech silicon tags – used in field research to identify individual birds in the wild – have been tested on penguins at the Zoo. These are offering promising results with less feather damage than with traditional metal tags. They are now being tested in South Africa in the wild.
It is not only penguins that are affected by oil pollution. Many other seabirds, such as gannets, get oiled and need to be cared for.