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Rehab centre goes to the birds

Published Mar 3, 2015


Cape Town - Acustom-designed, world-class rehab centre has opened its doors in Gansbaai. But it’s for the birds. Its clients are mostly endangered African penguins whose numbers are in rapid decline.

The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary will rehabilitate diseased, displaced, injured, oiled and abandoned marine birds.

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Wilfred Chivell, founder of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, said that until now, injured birds were sent to the SA National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) in Cape Town where they were rehabilitated and then released.

“Sanccob does a fantastic job, but it is a fair distance away from Dyer Island and results in unnecessary stress for the birds, as well as difficulty in finding their home colony due to the distance on release.”

The Gansbaai facility will provide a drop-off and pick-up point for birds in distress from both Dyer Island as well as Stony Point, and the whole Overstrand coastline.

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Its hospital includes an intensive care section for birds in critical condition and a treatment area, a fully equipped laboratory, rehabilitation pen and a conditioning pen – with a veterinarian and permanent rehabilitation manager.

It even has its own penguin “whisperer”.

Alouise Lynch of the conservation trust said Xolani Lawo, who was spearheading rehabilitation at the new facility, had a particular way with penguins.

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“Seeing ‘X’, as he is known to us all, working with penguins in particular is a curious sight,” she said.

“Penguins are lion-hearted, and are famous for reminding handlers that they are wild by biting worse than almost any toothed animal can – but not in Xolani’s hands, where they become instantly and visibly relaxed and calm.”

The trust also provides artificial nests to the Dyer Island and Stony Point African penguin colonies. To date, funding has been raised for the installation of more than 2 000 penguin houses.

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Lynch said that although the main focus of the new sanctuary would be the rehabilitation of marine birds, it was also looking into the possibility of a much-needed platform for environmental education, youth skills development and conservation awareness.

She said there would also be opportunity for research development in the field of marine bird conservation.

The sanctuary was opened last week by Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom, who said that projects like these were about the common good – good for the environment, the community and the country as a whole.

Cape Argus

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