21 July 2011

Lucy the penguin plots historic course

SOUTH AFRICA - On 26 June 2011, Lucy the penguin made history as she became the first ever juvenile African penguin to be fitted with a satellite transmitter. The information gained from Lucy's travels and those of other juvenile penguins may one day help scientists to establish a new African penguin colony.

The release of Lucy, who was born in the wild and then hand-reared by SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), is part of the Chick Bolstering Project (CBP), a collaborative endeavour being undertaken by SANCCOB, the Oceans and Coasts Branch of the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Animal Demography Unit (ADU), University of Cape Town.

The purpose of the project is to investigate the behaviour of juvenile birds and to answer pressing questions about the pressures that they face during early life. One of the goals is to use chicks abandoned by their parents and hand-reared to create new colonies close to areas of high prey abundance.

Over the coming months, four other juveniles will be fitted with transmitters and released. On 15 July, the next one to go, Richie, was fitted with his transmitter and will be given a few days of swimming around in SANCCOB’s pool to get used to it.

For both birds, the transmitters are expected to relay their position for about six months and regular updates will be posted on Penguin Watch. The transmitters are attached to the feathers on the penguins’ backs by a combination of a special tape and glue.

Dr Richard Sherley of ADU, who is heading the research component of the project, said, “Once the tape and glue wear off, the device will simply drop off. Hopefully, by that time we will have learnt some vital lessons about what these young birds do at sea.

“At worst case scenario, the device will drop off when the bird moults at around 18 months after deployment, but based on studies with these devices in the past, we don’t expect the attachment method to last that long.”

SANCCOB veterinarian Dr Nola Parsons, who selected Lucy and Richie for their transmitter missions said on the day of Lucy’s release, “It is wonderful to release this bird which has the potential to give us so much more valuable information about movements of African penguin fledglings. This work is essential in improving the way in which we manage this species.” 

Hand-reared penguin plots historic course by Richard Sherley and Venessa Strauss, 6 July 2011, Penguin Watch
Second chick set to follow in Lucy's wake by Richard Sherley, 18 July 2011, Penguin Watch

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