R17m seabird hospital opens in Table View

American actress and animal-rights activist Shannon Elizabeth speaks at the new hospitals opening. PICTURE: BRONWYN LLOYD

The largest sea-bird hospital in southern Africa officially opened it’s doors in Table View last week.

The event was part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), and about 200 people attended, including American Pie and Scary Movie actress Shannon Elizabeth and ward councillor Dr Joy McCarthy.

While the R17 million facility’s official opening was last week, it has been admitting sea birds since mid-July, and so far it has taken in 548, of which 289 were endangered African penguins.

Sanccob chairwoman Mariette Hopley said that sharing the opening with the community was a special way of celebrating the foundation’s 50 years of existence.

“My journey with Sanccob started 30 years ago, and I am pleased to see all the work we have done and a special thanks to the volunteers who work tirelessly. We still have many factors contributing to the bad conditions our coasts and seas are in – overfishing and pollution being the most problematic factors affecting our sea wildlife. Working together is the only way we can make a change to our environment,” she said.

Sanccob research manager Dr Katta Ludynia said the new hospital was a welcome change to the old and cramped prefabricated building built in the 1970s.

“In the old building, you would often find people washing birds in the hallways, people walking through trying to get buckets of fish for some of the other birds. And all that activity would become very stressful for the birds. The new facility now has much better spaces with dedicated surgery rooms that can be kept sterile.

“It has admission areas where the birds get brought in without having to go through all the other areas, spreading ticks and fleas to other birds.

“There is a dedicated wash bay in the event of any oil spills where birds can get washed and then taken to a drying room where they can be kept in peace and kept away from the other birds,” said Dr Ludynia.

Ms Elizabeth is the founder of the Shannon Elizabeth Foundation, a wildlife conservation non-profit. She moved to Cape Town in 2016 to be more hands-on with her projects and to expand their scope and influence.

“I believe that this new facility will be an extraordinary home for these creatures. The African penguin has become the poster child for conservation in Africa. Often the conservation community focuses on the Big Five, like the rhino and the big cats, but overlooks the African penguin.

“I’m grateful that this facility is in an area where residents take pride in their community; where they do cleaning projects on the coastline, and I would like to urge everyone to support these projects,” she said.

Sanccob chief executive officer Dr Stephen van der Spuy said the new facility had been long overdue.

“Since 1968, everyone involved has been dreaming about this day, and it’s finally here. Many organisations have pledged their support over the years, and a lot of them have put their money where their mouths area and helped us raise the funds to help us revamp the facility.

“This is a very special moment for not only Sanccob but also for the amount of seabird life we can help now,” he said.