Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Eastern Cape penguins freeze to death

Extreme cold, wind and heavy rain has killed 600 African penguin chicks on Bird Island, a reserve in Algoa Bay near Port Elizabeth.

The 19-hectare island is administered by South African National Parks as part of the Addo Elephant National Park.

“Penguin chicks started dying on Tuesday, when extremely cold weather, coupled with strong winds and heavy rainfall hit the Eastern Cape,” said SANParks regional communications manager Megan Taplin.

The number of chicks that had died had risen to 600 by Thursday morning.

Data from a weather station on the island showed temperatures over the past three days ranged between 8,8 and 12°C, with wind speeds gusting up to 95km/h.

“The total rainfall for the three days was 63,2mm, which is an abnormally high amount for this area at this time of year.

“Park rangers stationed on the island used all means possible to alleviate the situation in the absence of assistance from land due to rough seas.

“They provided temporary shelters for penguin chicks using materials on the island, and also drained penguin nests of excess water where possible,” she said.

Asked how the penguins had died of cold, when their Antarctic cousins survive long winters and sub-zero conditions, Taplin said African penguins did not shelter their chicks in the same way as those down south.

“Although the penguins do live in burrows, some stand out in the open next to the adults. The chicks are between a few weeks and two months old, and have only a down-feather covering, and when they get wet they die of hypothermia caused by wind chill.”

“The recent drought in the Eastern Cape means the island’s vegetation, which would usually offer some protection, is now sparser than usual.”

When the weather cleared on Thursday morning, rangers had used a helicopter to airlift two injured adult penguins and five abandoned chicks to Port Elizabeth.

“They will be taken to a specialised penguin rehabilitation centre for treatment. Rangers will assess the situation on Bird Island again tomorrow [Friday], when they are able to reach the island by boat.

“A decision will then be taken on whether to evacuate more penguin chicks for rehabilitation.”

Taplin said the death of penguin chicks due to extreme weather was a naturally-occurring phenomenon, and one in which SANParks did not usually interfere.

“In this instance, however, the number of chick deaths was higher than usual. The African penguin is classified as an endangered species, so we took action,” she said.

There are about 700 African penguin breeding pairs on Bird Island.

Penguin chicks on nearby St Croix Island were minimally affected by the recent weather, with only 19 deaths recorded.

SANParks say the island’s conical shape — unlike Bird Island’s relatively flat topography — ensured a quick run-off of rainwater. – Sapa

Subscribe to the M&G

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

Life Esidimeni inquest postponed until August 30

The lawyer for the bereaved families argued that Dr Makgabo Manamela’s requests for postponements have a negative impact on the families of the deceased who seek closure

RECAP: Mbeki tells ANC that land without compensation goes against...

‘This would be a very serious disincentive to investment,’ says Thabo Mbeki in a document arguing that the ANC should not proceed with the Constitutional amendment of section 25

More top stories

In South Africa, only 5% of chief executives are women

Only 5% of chief executives are women and the gender pay gap is most pronounced in the top JSE-listed companies, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers...

How to apply for the Covid-19 R350 grant

Asylum seekers with valid permits and caregivers will now also be allowed to apply for the reinstituted social relief of distress grant

Long arm of the riots still affecting health sector

The tumult in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng has forced people to go without chronic medication and check-ups, caused shortages at the blood bank and disruptions in the vaccine roll out

Deadly result as state forces seize ‘loot’ in Durban

In Madlala, the police and army broke into homes in an operation to retrieve stolen goods. After they left, a woman lay dead in a pool of her blood behind a shack
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×