The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is the only penguin species to naturally occur on the
African continent. It was once one of South Africa’s most abundant seabirds, but has suffered a massive population decline. During the early 20th century the population was estimated at one million breeding pairs, however, today the total estimate is less than 23 000 breeding pairs with only 17 277 breeding pairs recorded in South Africa in 2016 (South African Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts). As such, the present population represents approximately only 2.3% of its prevalence some 80 years ago and, most worryingly, the decrease is continuing. Due to its rapid decline, this indicator species was listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List in 2010.
The decline of the penguin population is further exacerbated by the mass abandonment of penguin eggs and chicks that hatch late in the season during the adult penguins’ annual moult. As a result, chicks that have yet to fledge are abandoned and face starvation unless SANCCOB and its conservation partners intervene by rescuing the abandoned eggs and chicks and admitting them to SANCCOB’s centres.
The African Penguin Chick Bolstering Project was established in 2006 to arrest and reverse the decline of the African penguin population by rescuing and releasing hand-reared chicks back into the wild, rescuing penguin eggs for hatching and hand-rearing, and conducting related research. Annually, SANCCOB admits 700 to 900 abandoned African penguin eggs and ill, injured and abandoned chicks to its centres. The project is recognised globally as one of the most successful conservation initiatives to reverse the decline of the endangered species. Since the project’s inception, SANCCOB and its partners have successfully hand-reared and released more than 4 500 chicks back into the wild