View all news

Zoo helps endangered African penguins

Press release issued: 25 June 2002

Media release
Zoo helps endangered African penguins

Duncan Bolton, Curator at Bristol Zoo Gardens, has just arrived back from his rescue mission in Robben Island, South Africa. For the past two weeks Duncan has been a Principal Investigator on an EarthWatch project, monitoring nesting African penguins and assessing the success of an innovative new identification tag, developed at Bristol University.

In June 2000, a shipwreck off the coast of South Africa resulted in an oil spill between Robben and Dassen Islands. Over 19,000 oiled penguins were collected, washed, examined by vets, medicated, tagged, and their health monitored constantly by volunteers working for the charity SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds). A further 20,000 birds were evacuated to prevent them from spreading oil. An estimated 40% of the wild population of this threatened species were at risk from this single oil spill.

Oil spills are not the only threat to African penguins; other risks include modern fisheries, pollution, and fur seals that chase penguins from their breeding ground. Biologists need to be able to identify individual birds to check that the rehabilitated birds are breeding successfully. The EarthWatch volunteers and scientists monitor the success of the breeding birds using an innovative new plastic tag, designed by Dr Peter Barham from the University of Bristol, which are fitted to the bird's wings. These new tags are being tested by comparing the breeding success of the penguins with the new bands, against those with the old steel bands, and birds without bands.

Duncan Bolton, General Curator at Bristol Zoo Gardens said 'Traditionally penguin biologists have relied on steel bands to identify the birds, however these can damage the feathers of the birds, reducing their protection from the cold waters and increase the hydrodynamic drag which the birds must face whilst hunting for food. If the plastic tags prove successful they will be used with many species of penguins, aiding in the conservation of these most charismatic creatures. South African penguins are extremely vulnerable to man-induced disasters and it is crucial to track the survival of rehabilitated and evacuated penguins, ensuring that the rehabilitation work and other conservation initiatives such as fisheries control are effective.'

During 'P….P….Protect a Penguin' week, that runs from Saturday 22 to Sunday 30 June, Bristol Zoo Gardens will be supporting and raising awareness of SANCCOB's work in South Africa and the dangers that still face the surviving penguins. Dr Peter Barham will also be presenting an illustrated talk on Wednesday 26 June, 7.30 pm at Bristol Zoo Gardens.

Back to archive

Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Tuesday, 25-Jun-2002 10:21:25 BST

Edit this page