By: Lynn Britz
On the 23 June 2000, tragedy struck when a fully laden bulk ore carrier, the MV Treasure, sank just off Cape Town. The fuel oil that leaked into the sea threatened 41 000 penguins close by in their rookeries off Dassen Island and Robben Island.
A huge rescue mission was launched to remove the oiled birds and relocate 20 000 non-oiled birds to prevent their contamination. With the removal of the adults, many chicks were left unattended in their nests.
Rudy van der Elst, casually walked into the SAAMBR marketing department offices and asked if they thought Sea World could handle five hundred rescued penguin chicks. Without hesitation the entire Sea World team sprang into action and by the next day it was decided to accommodate the chicks at SAAMBR’s boathouse at Vetch’s Pier.
Fencing, food, porta pools, sprinkler systems, water pumps and hospital care facilities were donated by generous supporters and once again Durbanites rallied to the cause. Volunteers and veterinary help poured in and in no time at all – penguin chicks started to arrive in batches by air from Cape Town, usually the last flight of the day!
With SAAMBR’s track record and experience in raising penguin chicks and the rehabilitation of stranded birds, SAAMBR’s help was much appreciated by the Department of Marine and Coastal Management.
The rescue effort further enhanced Sea World’s ability to deal with the rescue and rehabilitation of penguins in the long term with a view to rehabilitation and breeding in order to return birds to the wild.
Slowly but surely, the chicks were returned in batches to Cape Town for release. Who will ever forget the images of the volunteers with cardboard boxes, releasing the rehabilitated birds with pink spots on their chests as they waddled back into the sea?