Bio-banking of African Penguin DNA

By: Dr Francois Lampen

The African Penguin studbook, a collaborative species management programme, is currently managed by uShaka Sea World registrar Tracy Shaw. It is collated and managed under the auspices of the African Preservation Programme (APP) of the Pan African Association of Zoos and Aquaria (PAAZA™).  The studbook accounts for almost 500 individuals, housed in various institutions across South Africa. Records of each bird’s sex, their reproduction, and parentage, origin and, when applicable, death are recorded. Each institution is required to supply accurate and up-to-date information, and as a consequence implementation of the Ark programme is taking place. Its aim is to manage the DNA typing of all PAAZA™ studbook individuals. Sampling needs to follow the chain of custody route in order to ensure integrity and verifiable data. PAAZA™ has adopted the National Zoological Garden’s (NZG) sampling protocol, which also includes the use of species specific transponders. DNA samples collected are bio-banked.  A photo ID and transponder number will be added to the African penguin studbook data set, creating a unique “passport” for every penguin in the population. These results will be of paramount importance in ensuring the genetic variability of the assurance population. Furthermore, the African Penguin studbook is an integral part of the new TOPS legislation.

On 6 March it was uShaka Sea World’s chance to participate in this exciting program. All 56 resident birds lined up to submit their respective data. We also used the opportunity to collect a blood sample from each bird in order to monitor the health of our resident flock. This forms part of our annual health examinations and allows us to be proactive in monitoring the health status of the birds.

It was a challenging enterprise, but all birds handled the day well and the staff only had a few scratches to show. We would like to thank the NZG team, PAAZA, as well as all the SAAMBR staff that assisted in making this a successful and worthwhile day.