Hand-rearing, release and survival of African penguin chicks abandoned before independence by moulting parents

PLoS One. 2014 Oct 22;9(10):e110794. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0110794. eCollection 2014.


The African penguin Spheniscus demersus has an 'Endangered' conservation status and a decreasing population. Following abandonment, 841 African penguin chicks in 2006 and 481 in 2007 were admitted to SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) for hand-rearing from colonies in the Western Cape, South Africa, after large numbers of breeding adults commenced moult with chicks still in the nest. Of those admitted, 91% and 73% respectively were released into the wild. There were veterinary concerns about avian malaria, airsacculitis and pneumonia, feather-loss and pododermatitis (bumblefoot). Post-release juvenile (0.32, s.e. = 0.08) and adult (0.76, s.e. = 0.10) survival rates were similar to African penguin chicks reared after oil spills and to recent survival rates recorded for naturally-reared birds. By December 2012, 12 birds had bred, six at their colony of origin, and the apparent recruitment rate was 0.11 (s.e. = 0.03). Hand-rearing of abandoned penguin chicks is recommended as a conservation tool to limit mortality and to bolster the population at specific colonies. The feasibility of conservation translocations for the creation of new colonies for this species using hand-reared chicks warrants investigation. Any such programme would be predicated on adequate disease surveillance programmes established to minimise the risk of disease introduction to wild birds.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry
  • Animals
  • Endangered Species
  • Humans
  • Malaria, Avian / mortality*
  • Molting
  • South Africa
  • Spheniscidae*

Grant support

The authors acknowledge financial support from our institutes, the SeaChange Programme of the National Research Foundation, the Earthwatch Institute, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, the Norway South Africa Fisheries Agreement (NORSA), IFAW and the Leiden Conservation Foundation. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.