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The Simon’s Town penguin colony is home to the endangered African penguin. In an effort to protect and conserve our endangered feathered friends, the City has teamed up with the South African National Parks (SANParks), the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) and the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) to implement a management and monitoring programme for the penguins.
The Simon’s Town penguin colony is a top conservation priority and is home to at least 854 breeding pairs of African penguins. The African penguin, Spheniscus demersus, is listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
The sections of the Simon’s Town penguin colony from Seaforth Beach to Water’s Edge Beach, and from Burghers’ Walk to Windmill Beach and Franks Bay, are free-access areas managed by the Transport and Urban Development Authority’s Environmental Management Department.
The Table Mountain National Park’s Boulders Beach section is managed by SANParks.
The marine environment adjacent to the penguin colony is part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area (MPA), which stretches from Muizenberg around Cape Point to Green Point. The Boulders Restricted Zone, adjacent to the penguin colony, is one of six ‘no-take MPA zones’ where no fishing is allowed and activities such as diving are regulated.
The zone, which is home to several threatened species including abalone, west coast rock lobster, red steenbras and bank cormorants is an important feeding ground for the penguins. Kelp forests provide food and a haven for thousands of species, from colourful sea anemones to endemic cat sharks.
The City’s Environmental Management Department entered into a three-year agreement in July last year with SANCCOB to assist with penguin monitoring and research, which includes the appointment of a site coordinator for the City’s management of the Simon’s Town penguin colony.
Since then, CTEET, an environmental education and training not-for-profit organisation, has appointed four monitors who have been working with the penguins. The penguin monitor programme is also funded by SANCCOB.
The main purpose of the penguin management team is to ensure that the seabirds are protected and co-exist peacefully with residents and visitors in the Simon’s Town coastal area. The programme therefore includes the following:
• Residential sweeps
Monitors look for penguins breeding outside core breeding areas and move them to safety. This includes places where they have to cross roads to get to the sea, are vulnerable to attacks by dogs or are on private properties where they are not welcome. Chicks and eggs found during these sweeps are taken to SANCCOB for incubation and hand-rearing.
• Microchip monitoring
Small microchips have been implanted under the penguins’ skins so that they can be identified using a hand-held or ground reader, which allows for the easy collection of data and reduces the stress for the penguins. Ground readers have been installed at Stony Point and Robben Island, which provide important information on survival, movement and site fidelity of penguins. A ground reader will also be installed in the Simon’s Town colony at Boulders Beach.
• Annual breeding season
African penguins usually breed and moult once a year. The monitors conduct regular nest checks and counts. This data is used to determine the long-term breeding success of the population.
• Moult counts
During a moult, penguins replace all their feathers in order to retain their waterproofing properties and, as a result, they are land-bound and cannot go to sea to feed. Sometimes, when the birds lose their first clutch of eggs or chicks due to bad weather events, such as heat waves or storms, or a shortage of food (small pelagic fish), they may try to breed again later in the year.
As such, when the moulting period coincides with the breeding period, the adult penguins are unable to feed their chicks. The penguin monitors then rescue the abandoned chicks and take them to SANCCOB for hand-rearing and release once they are old enough to go to sea. The current conservation status is such that every one of these late-season chicks needs to be saved.
• Dealing with injured and oiled birds.
The monitors rescue injured penguins and other birds that they find on their daily sweeps or which are reported by members of the public.
The monitors also rescue any oiled birds which are taken to SANCCOB for cleaning and rehabilitation. In April 2017, three adult penguins were oiled after sitting underneath a car in Gay Road. In August 2017, an adult penguin was found with a plastic ring around its head and beak. Luckily, all of these birds were successfully rehabilitated and released.
All residents need to play their part in preventing pollution, on land or sea, to reduce the negative impacts on the marine environment.
• Reducing threats
Historically, penguins used to breed on the offshore islands and were safely protected from land-based predators, but the destruction of the breeding habitat on the islands due to guano collection and egg collection reduced their ability to breed successfully there.
However, the land-based penguin colonies that have established themselves in recent times are vulnerable to predators including mongoose, seals, caracal and even leopards in some areas. Kelp gulls also predate on the penguin eggs. Feral and domestic cats and dogs are also responsible for penguin deaths in the colony.
The monitors check the colony for any signs of predation on a daily basis. Camera traps are also used to monitor predator activity within the colony. Low levels of predation are a naturally occurring event, but any large predations are investigated to ascertain the predator and any management interventions that may be required. The monitors also survey the colony for any signs of disease and any sick birds are carefully removed from the colony and sent to SANCCOB.
The monitors play a critical role in communicating with visitors to the area, informing them of the rules and regulations and ensuring that disturbance to the penguins is kept to a minimum.
‘We are very pleased to be working with SANCCOB, CTEET and SANParks to ensure the protection and conservation of our endangered penguins. This integrated approach is needed as the Simon’s Town penguin colony stretches across various boundaries along the coastline and requires all our expertise and resources to manage.
‘This successful partnership is truly reflective of the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” We may have different roles to play but we share the same goal and that is to keep the penguin colony safe and thriving for many years to come,’ said the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Transport and Urban Development, Councillor Brett Herron.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Area South, Councillor Eddie Andrews, said: ‘The penguins have become the mascots of Simon’s Town and they are very popular among the locals and tourists. As small and cute as they are, they also have a role to play in our environment. We therefore want to thank the team of dedicated monitors who are on the ground daily, making every effort to keep these endangered seabirds safe and ensuring that they can peacefully co-exist with locals and visitors in the area.’
When visiting the penguins, locals and visitors are reminded to:
• Check under their cars before driving off
• Drive slowly in areas where there may be penguins
• Keep dogs on a leash in penguin areas
• Keep dogs out of areas where they are not permitted
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