Jackass Penguins Freed After Rehab

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June 17, 2009—After surviving an oil slick off the Namibian coast and being rehabilitated in South Africa, close to a hundred jackass penguins, or African penguins, were set free and began swimming hundreds of miles home in May.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript

Queuing like school children these penguins are waiting to receive life saving medicines and nutrition.

They owe their lives to SANCCOB, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.

SANCCOB responded to a call for help from the Namibian government, after 156 penguins were rescued from an oil slick off the coast near Luderitz.

Its believed the slick was from a sunken trawler.

SOUNDBITE: (English) Vanessa Strauss, CEO, SANCCOB: "Researchers on the bird island saw the penguins becoming oiled. Because they don't have any rehabilitating facilities in Namibia they requested SANCCOB help to evacuate these birds and rehabilitate them."

129 of the penguins were moved about 600 miles to the SANCCOB center in Cape Town for treatment.

African penguins, also known as jackass penguins, are listed as 'vulnerable' to extinction on the IUCN Red List. Currently there are only about 36,000 breeding pairs left, a drop of 75% over the last 50 years. So this operation is important for the future survival of this species.

African penguins are the only species of penguin to inhabit the African continent, generally living along the coasts of Namibia and South Africa. But groups have been found as far away as Gabon and Mozambique.

After a 4 week rehabilitation period, the countless rounds of medication, hand-feeding, tube feeding, blood tests and forced swimming have paid off.

84 of them were given a clean bill of health and deemed fit for the long swim back home.

Each bird is marked with a pink dot on their chest so that South African and Namibian authorities can monitor and identify the group when they eventually arrive in Namibia.

Volunteers and staff packed the penguins into cardboard boxes for the short ride to Derdersteen Beach on the West Coast of Cape Town.

SOUNDBITE: (English) Vanessa Strauss, CEO, SANCCOB: "It's the first time that we've rescued birds from Namibia and released them in the Western Cape. We not sure what they will do but we know from research that was done in the year 2000 with the treasure oil spill that the birds do head back immediately."

The beach is full of visitors and well wishers, eager to take part and watch the wildlife spectacle.

Under the back drop of Cape Town's famous Table Mountain, the Namibian penguins are set free.

Laughter fills the air as the penguins form a tight group and waddle round in circles at first, as if almost not knowing which direction to go.

But soon enough they approach the water - and they're off.

SOUNDBITE: (English) Laura Merola, Volunteer: "It's been very emotional working with them and seeing them go, hopefully they'll be ok."

Huddling together to ward off predators, it was expected the penguins would take two to three weeks to get back to their home along the Namibian coast. Last reports indicate they made it home and seem to be doing well.

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