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Saving Penguins with SANCCOB

Saving African Penguins with SANCCOB

December 2, 2016

Written by Anslee Schroeder, Digital Engagement

Here in the United States, the months from October to January are typically full of holiday festivities and become quite the “busy season” for most. However, eight thousands of miles away in Cape Town, South Africa at the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) – a nonprofit organization dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sea birds, primarily the native African penguin – they are experiencing their “busy season” too; only it’s not as fun nor as festive as ours. 

African penguins at SANCCOB

Since late October, SANCCOB’s team members and volunteers’ hands have been full with more than 400 African penguin chicks, an endangered species, admitted to its organization. Some of the birds might be ill, injured or abandoned, consisting mostly of chicks or juveniles, and are rescued as a result of the annual mass abandonment that happens this time of year when their parents are molting and prematurely leave the nest for multiple weeks at a time to replace their worn out feathers.

Since its beginning, Georgia Aquarium has housed African penguins and supported conservation efforts to ensure the future of this endangered species. As a zoological facility dedicated to the research and conservation of these birds, Georgia Aquarium is a formal partner with SANCCOB, providing aid and support during these difficult times. Over the years we have sent seven Aquarium team members to assist SANCCOB and in the coming weeks we will be sending members of our mammals and birds team as reinforcements for this year’s mass abandonment.

One of these team members, senior trainer Kristen Hannigan, will be assisting SANCCOB for her very first time. Although new to SANCCOB’s facility, Kristen is no stranger to rescue, rehabilitation and release efforts or working with African penguins. She has been part of our mammal and birds team for six years and works daily with the animal care and training of our African penguins. Before coming to Georgia Aquarium, Kristen participated in both cetacean and sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and release, and also assisted a treatment facility for oiled sea turtles during the Deep Water Horizon oil spill. 

Kristen Hannigan with two Georgia Aquarium African penguin chicksWhile at SANCCOB, Kristen’s responsibilities will include helping staff and other volunteers in all aspects of the care of the penguins currently being rehabilitated. These duties will likely include diet preparation, medical procedures, habitat cleaning, behavioral monitoring and anything else that is needed. Her knowledge and skillset of working with African penguins here at Georgia Aquarium will be an invaluable resource for her work at SANCCOB.

“I am most excited to be able to use the skills that I have learned over the past decade working with penguins in zoological facilities to help wild penguins who are in need,” said Kristen. “Every little bit is important when working with animals who need help, and I am very excited to be able to provide this aid.”

After her time at SANCCOB, Kristen will be able to bring back a deeper knowledge of the issues this endangered species is facing in their natural habitat.

“I look forward to gaining an even more incredible appreciation for everyone at SANCCOB who help these birds on a daily basis,” said Kristen. “Experiencing first-hand these endangered African penguins in their natural habitat will remind me how important conservation education is for all the guests who visit any zoo or aquarium.”

Another Aquarium mammal and birds team member who previously traveled to South Africa to assist SANCCOB during a mass abandonment is curator Jenn Odell. Jenn works closely with Kristen on a daily basis and has been a part of our mammals and birds team since our opening 11 years ago. Although Jenn will not be traveling to SANCCOB this year, she is excited for her fellow team member’s first time to South Africa.

 Jenn Odell (L) with team members Erin Morlang (R) assisting at SANCCOB in 2012“I'm excited for Kristen to further develop her penguin handling abilities and gain more confidence in medical procedures,” said Jenn. “Getting to be a part of the entire process previously -- admission, rehabilitation, release -- was really powerful and something that will give Kristen a unique perspective when sharing conservation messages with our guests. Seeing African penguins in their natural environment was an amazing experience that I will never forget and I'm excited to hear how that is for Kristen.”

Jenn first aided SANCCOB in 2012 and was immersed in every step of the process from admission, to health exams to release - much like Kristen will be. It’s through her past experiences that she can provide insight to her fellow team member for providing the best care for the penguins at SANCCOB.

“SANCCOB is critical to the survival of sea birds in South Africa and to the engagement and education of the community,” said Jenn. “They provide critical care, rehabilitating and releasing many sea bird species and giving hope to the plight of the endangered African penguin.  I love the outreach they do, making people more aware of the importance of these animals and the steps they can take toward conservation.”

It is with great pleasure we are able to partner with a conservation organization such as SANCCOB and send our passionate team members to help save the endangered species of African penguins.

We encourage you to follow Kristen’s journey at SANCCOB on Georgia Aquarium’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. Join in on conversation with hashtag #GASavesPenguins.

You can learn more about our conservation efforts with African penguins here.

To learn how you can support SANCCOB’s efforts, visit them online here.

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