Penguins freed from flu quarantine

The 51 African penguins released at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay, on Sunday, January 8.

African penguins freed from a flu quarantine at a Table View sea bird sanctuary are now back in the wild.

The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) released the 51 penguins at Stony Point, Betty’s Bay, on Sunday January 8.

Sanccob’s sea bird hospital in Table View has been under quarantine by the Western Cape Veterinary Services following an outbreak of avian influenza in African penguins.

The penguins had undergone rehabilitation at the centre, and the first positive case was detected on Friday November 25.

Sanccob’s preparedness and response manager, Monica Stassen, said it had been a challenging time at the centre, caring for just over 500 sea birds, including penguins, kelp gulls, and black-headed herons.

Strict biosecurity measures had been taken to reduce the spread of the disease, she said.

There are still 350 sea birds at Sanccob, some still affected by the avian influenza, but birds can only be released after they have been kept in an isolated area where all the birds test negative for the virus.

“The release of the sea birds is an incredible achievement and serves as a testament to the diligent efforts of all Sanccob staff and volunteers to adhere to the strict biosecurity measures which prevented the spread of the highly pathogenic avian influenza disease,” said Ms Stassen.

Nicky Stander, head of conservation at Sanccob, said: “Based on the negative test results and Sanccob’s strict biosecurity protocol, the Department of Agriculture awarded Sanccob a special permit to release birds from the pens that tested negative for avian influenza.”

Dr David Roberts, Sanccob’s clinical veterinarian, said: “Whilst the news is positive, Sanccob remains under state-mandated quarantine, and strict biosecurity measures are still being implemented.”

Although the infected birds were mostly asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms, it was still a lot of work to feed and care for so many penguins that were otherwise ready for release.

“We are concerned that their extended stay in captivity will lead to secondary health complications,” he said.

Sanccob is in desperate need of volunteers. If you would like to become a volunteer, WhatsApp 076 682 5130.

A penguin being tested for avian influenza.