SANCCOB saves seabirds


For my January Internship, I headed 7,800 miles southeast to Cape Town, South Africa, where I worked at SANCCOB, a non-profit organization, which focuses primarily on the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured, oiled, sick, and abandoned African Penguins and other sea birds. SANCCOB has two locations in the Western Cape and treats up to 2,500 seabirds a year, of which about 1,500 are African Penguins. SANCCOB is also an internationally recognized leader in oiled wildlife response. In 50 years, SANCCOB has treated more than 95,000 seabirds and independent research confirms that SANCCOB’s oil spill response alone has increased the African Penguin population by 19%.

The African Penguin has been listed as “endangered” on the IUCN red list since 2010 as populations have declined over 60% in three generations. As such, SANCCOB plays a vital role in maintaining the health of African Penguin populations as well as other endangered sea birds like the Cape Cormorant and Cape Gannet. In addition to its rehabilitation efforts, SANCCOB also has a small research department, which collects and synthesizes data from rescued seabirds and publishes a handful of scientific articles annually. SANCCOB also works with local schools and universities to build public awareness and support.

The majority of the birds that come in throughout the year are abandoned chicks and are a part of SANCCOB’s “Chick Bolstering Project.” African Penguins always have two chicks when they mate; however, they are not always able to take care of both. The most common reason is that the parent penguins enter their annual “molting” stage and are thus unable to enter the ocean and get fish because of their feather quality. Another common explanation is the collapse of fisheries off of South Africa due to overfishing. In both cases, one or both of the chicks will starve; therefore, SANCCOB will take in these abandoned chicks, bring them to full health, and then release them in order to boost the population. The rest of the birds in the center are typically admitted due to illnesses or injuries by cats, dogs, or fur seals.

I spent the majority of my time working in the “pens,” which is where all the rehabilitation work is done. The penguins are on a strict schedule from 8am – 5pm, which means you’re virtually busy non-stop, especially during chick season (November—January). The birds’ schedule is as follows:

8am 9am 10am 12pm 1pm 2pm 4pm 5pm
Morning Darrows + Medication Swim Feeding + Daily Vitamins Water + Medication Formula + Swim Feeding Afternoon Darrows + Medication Formula


Because the penguins are all wild, they resist handling by humans and as a result, we must administer Alex2darrows (an electrolyte fluid), water, and fish formula (a fish smoothie with added vitamins) by tubes directly into the penguins’ stomach and fish must be force-fed at feeding time—save the occasional hungry penguin. We even wear protective gloves and arm guards to avoid their nasty bite. During any down time, we needed to clean all the mats and pens and update all the penguins’ information cards.

I also had the opportunity to help out in the marketing, research, and education departments. In the marketing department, I helped by performing small research projects like finding zoos with African Penguins in Asia in order to expand connections, and finding examples of other similar non-profit websites in order to gain insight and perspective for SANCCOB’s new website. In the research department, I helped with post-mortems on deceased birds and data entry. In the education department, I had the opportunity to travel to Stellenbosch University with a staff member and “ambassador” penguin, Stubby. There we gave a quick talk about the African PenguinsAlex3 and the importance of SANCCOB’s conservation work.

The opportunity to work in each of these different departments was the most rewarding part for it gave me a better sense of how a nonprofit operates. I have always had an interest in nonprofits or NGOs and my work at SANCCOB has helped provide a better idea of different career opportunities within a nonprofit as well as great experience positions. On top of that, it was extremely rewarding to go to work everyday and know that the work you’re doing is helping someone or something—especially when it’s a cute African Penguin.