Cape Town - A family of endangered northern rockhopper penguins, although foreign to South African waters, have been growing strongly at the Two Oceans Aquarium with the recent hatching of a fourth chick, Codi.
The parents were originally found stranded on a southern Cape beach years ago and have since been re-homed at the aquarium.
The hatching of the chick was welcomed by conservation groups because the species has declined dramatically over the last three decades.
Two Oceans Aquarium spokesperson Renée Leeuwner said they welcomed the hatching of a northern rockhopper penguin chick on the rockhopper beach in the Aquarium’s penguin exhibit last month.
Leeuwner said Codi was the fourth chick hatched out by parent birds Roxy and Grommet – known affectionately as the “Beakham Family” of the resident rockhopper colony.
“I was lucky enough to witness the chick hatching, which was such a special experience for me. It is a joy to see how well Roxy and Grommet are taking care of the chick and how it is growing,” said penguin volunteer Rebecca Miller.
Leeuwner said rockhopper penguins were classified as endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and their numbers declined dramatically over the last three decades with food source scarcity, human activity and climate change being the main driving factors behind the decline.
The rockhopper penguins that are on display were found stranded on southern Cape beaches and rehabilitated by the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob), before being rehomed at the aquarium.
Sanccob research manager Katta Ludynia said the birds were naturally found on sub-Antarctic islands, mostly Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island in the South Atlantic, and predominantly fed on krill, thus a very different diet to African penguins on the African continent.
Ludynia said if found along the South African shore, the birds might have been “thrown off-course” during their juvenile or non-breeding movements, which could bring them closer to the African continent.
“This can be due to storms or also changes in currents and food availability.
“Another suspected cause for the species (also King Penguins) to arrive on our shores is that they might have been travelling on vessels after being caught as by-catch and then thrown off the boats before entering the harbours,” said Ludynia.
Sanccob, in consultation with experts and the government, made the decision to not release these sub-antarctic species after they have been in rehabilitation.
There is always a risk of them contracting avian diseases present in South Africa (like avian influenza) and would then bring them to their pristine environments, threatening their entire population.