Jeffreys Bay Penguin Rehabilitation

Situated on the Seekoei River, just outside Jeffreys Bay, which lies on the Eastern Cape coast of Southern Africa, is a small successful centre for the rehabilitation of the African Penguin (Spheniscus Demersus), also referred to as the Jackass Penguin.These penguins are listed as vulnerable in the South African Red Data Book. Their numbers have declined from an estimated 240 000 in the late 70's, to a present level of approximately 125 000. The species is unique to the Southern African coast, from Southern Natal to Namibia. Of the total population, an estimated 78 000 (62%), are to be found on a group of small islands in Algoa Bay, east of Port Elizabeth. Other colonies on islands off the Western Cape coast and Namibia account for the rest of the population. 

Jangles in moult - he is missing a left eye


Heavy sea traffic along this stretch of coast has resulted in oil pollution. Over the years, ships and tankers coming to grief, were responsible for several major oil pollution disasters. However, chronic ongoing pollution caused by ships and trawlers cleaning their tanks at sea, has taken an even heavier toll on penguin numbers and continues to do so on a daily basis.The Fishing Industry, one of the main sources of income for inhabitants of this area and natural phenomena (El Nino) have had an impact on the availability of fish along this stretch of coast.

Over the past few years, a third factor, that of plastic pollution in the sea, has added to the problems facing the penguins, in their battle for survival.

Taking these three factors into account, as well as natural causes of mortality, such as disease and injury, it becomes clear that the survival of the African Penguin is precarious.   The proposed Couga development, in close proximity to the breeding islands is expected to exacerbate existing problems. 

An adult penguin just emerged from moult- note the very white plumage and the feathers on the beak


All marine birds are extremely vulnerable to oil pollution. Penguins, as non-flying birds even more so than flying birds. Once oiled, their insulation becomes severely compromised and they cannot enter the sea to hunt. Those birds who do not succumb to the toxic effects of the oil (within days), slowly starve to death or die of exposure\hypothermia. Without human intervention, oiled penguins die. 


 Where there is a scarcity of fish in a particular area, breeding adults are unable to provide their chicks with the required sustenance. As a result, many chicks leave the nest and enter the sea, at weights of between 500 gm and 1 kg. Research has shown that the minimum weight of a chick leaving the nest, should be in the region of  2,5 kg. The ability of these underweight chicks to hunt successfully is doubtful and this problem is compounded by the lack of fish.   Once again human intervention is required. Starving baby penguins which wash out onto beaches along the coast, need to be taken in and fed until they attain, at the very least, a weight of 2,5 kg. Adult penguins too are affected by dwindling fish resources. They moult once a year and cannot enter the sea  to hunt during the 3-week moult. An increasing number of starving adults, who entered their moult physically unprepared, are being found on the beaches.


Weak, starving chicks tend to swallow bits of plastic floating on the surface of the sea. This is a death sentence for them, as the plastic cannot be digested and septicemia sets in. Post-mortems performed on dead baby penguins, show plastic pollution to be the cause of death in an increasing number of cases.Apart from addressing the pollution problem itself, the only other solution would lie in the acquisition of a specialized endoscope, a costly piece of equipment not readily affordable by vets dealing with penguins on a voluntary basis.


In the 60's and 70's, the only penguin rehabilitation centre, SANCCOB, was situated in Cape Town on the Western Cape coast. In the Eastern Cape, birds in distress were taken in by individuals and passed on to the Port Elizabeth Oceanarium for treatment, rehabilitation and release.    The primary function of this institution has always been an educational\tourism one.   The pollution disasters in the 80's  emphasized the fact, that limited by funds and space, this facility was not in a position to cope with the constant stream of birds coming in from the Jeffreys Bay, Plettenberg Bay, Mossel Bay areas. Due to logistical factors such as distance, expense and trauma to the birds, SANCCOB was not a practical alternative.

In 1983, a veterinarian, Dr D.J. Hartley opened a practice in Jeffreys Bay and began to play an active role in penguin rehabilitation. Penguins brought in to him, were treated, stabilized and released back into the sea when ready.    

In the 90's, the increasing numbers of penguins being rehabilitated on Dr Hartley's premises, which were situated in a residential area, brought pressure from the Local Authority to scale down the activities. In 1995, when the Local Authority threatened to forcibly remove the penguins, TV and other media coverage on the plight of these birds, led to offers of assistance from local business, SANCCOB and concerned individuals. Eastern Cape Nature Conservation made land available at the Seekoei Nature Reserve and a rehabilitation center was built. The first penguins for rehabilitation arrived at the centre in May 1996.

Creep (father) and Melvinreef (son) two and a half months old. Note the difference in plumage.


Sick, injured , starving or polluted birds are initially stabilized at the veterinary hospital.   Thereafter they are transferred to the Rehabilitation Centre where they convalesce and regain condition before being released. The centre is run solely by volunteers, whose tasks include giving follow-up medication, washing polluted birds, hand-feeding with pilchards twice daily and monitoring the birds' condition for release. Records are kept for each individual bird, from arrival to release. All administration is handled by the volunteers, under the direction of a Committee which includes Nature Conservation officials. The number of penguins in rehabilitation at any one time, ranges from 25 to 60+. Great success is achieved with the release of the rehabilitated penguins back into the wild on an ongoing and regular basis.

The cost involved in feeding a penguin for one month, is approximately R180,00 (One hundred and eighty South African Rand - ZAR). This excludes any medication. The biggest expense is the fish, followed by medication and cleaning agents. 

Penguins are held at the centre for periods ranging from 3 weeks to 1 year, depending upon the nature of their original problem. Where injuries such as shark-bite wounds cause a loss of insulation around the wound area, the birds have to be held until they moult and regain their entire plumage.  This can take up to one year.

The centre depends entirely on fundraising and donations for its continued existence. At  present, funds are severely depleted and any donation, big or small, would be greatly appreciated.

 Our postal address is : Jeffreys Bay Penguin Rehabilitation Fund,  P O Box 309, Jeffreys Bay, 6330, Eastern Cape, South Africa

All donations will be acknowledged and a receipt provided. Thank you to those people, companies and organisations who have so kindly donated funds or helped us making various projects a reality.

For further information you may contact one of the following :

Mr H. Swanevelder                            Mr. C. Abbott
Eastern Cape Nature Conservation      Treasurer - Penguin Fund
Tel :  ++27-42-2920339                     Tel: ++27-42-2931298

 Dr D.J. Hartley
Tel : ++27-42-2931320

Baby Trudles and Gert (dad)

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