Rare bird released by uShaka Sea World following rehabilitation

Earth Day is celebrated throughout the world on 22 April. However uShaka Sea World celebrated a day earlier than the rest of the world this year, when our vet, Dr Francois Lampen released a rare visitor to South Africa back to the ocean.

A fledgling tropical shearwater (Puffinus bailloni) was released 15 nautical miles off Durban following a period of rehabilitation and treatment.

The shearwater was found on North Beach by local resident Peter Sinclair who took it to ornithologist Dr Allen for identification. Recognising the severity of the bird's condition, Allen made arrangements for the bird to be transported to uShaka Sea World.

Dr Francois Lampen was on hand to admit the patient (by now named Jimmy) and start treatment. It was evident that young Jimmy was emaciated and in desperate need of nourishment if he was to have any chance of recovery. Much to the animal care staff’s delight, Jimmy was keen to eat the fish offered to him and over the next few weeks his zealous appetite saw him gaining more than 300g – a lot for a tiny bird.

As soon as Dr Lampen was satisfied that his condition had improved the shearwater was started on physiotherapy in the saltwater pools to strengthen his injured right leg. X-rays showed that he had not suffered any broken bones and only needed treatment for soft tissue damage.

On Monday 19 April Jimmy was given a clean bill of health and added to the passenger list of the first offshore boat trip. Thursday 21 April was earmarked for his release with perfect sea conditions forecast. After an easy trip out to sea, he was taken out of his travelling crate and introduced to the ocean once again.

After more than three weeks on land, Jimmy moved towards the water and then for some reason turned around and returned to the boat. Dr Lampen then helped him for a second time into the water and this time Jimmy did not look back. After 15 minutes of thorough preening he took off into the skies without a backward glance.

The shearwater prepares to take flight

Dr Allan, who was on the boat for the momentous occasion, said that in all likelihood Jimmy would spend the next two years flying around the Indian Ocean before heading back to Reunion Island to breed.

“On Earth Day, it is important for us all to remember that our actions do count. Regardless of how big or small an animal is, they need our protection, care and our love. It was an honour and a privilege to have been part of a group of conservationists committed to giving young Jimmy a second chance. And yes, when he took off into the winds my heart sang, smiled and danced all at the same time – I was truly happy,” said Dr Lampen.

According to Dr Dave Allen, Curator: Birds at Durban’s Natural Science Museum, a tropical shearwater has only been spotted twice before in South Africa.

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