One woman’s act of goodwill, driven by a passionate concern for seabirds has evolved into an internationally recognised organisation that has treated nearly 100 000 seabirds over the course of 50 years.
The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) was founded by Althea Westphal in 1968 and has dedicated its existence to saving southern Africa’s seabirds ever since.
The African penguin species, the only penguin species to naturally occur on the African continent, is on the brink of extinction with only 2% of the population remaining in the wild. Sanccob works tirelessly to reverse the decline of the penguin population.
When the Esso Essen hit a submerged object in April 1968, it spilt an estimated 4 000 tons of oil in the ocean, affecting large numbers of seabirds, including African penguins. Speak, Protect and Care for Animals (SPCA) played a vital role in caring for seabirds but at the time, was not adequately equipped to deal with the large number of birds in need of washing and rehabilitation.
Ms Westphal set up a temporary rehabilitation station at her home in Newlands to treat 60 severely oiled African penguins and made regular trips to a tidal pool at Blouberg Beach to swim the affected seabirds. Shortly after the emergency response, Sanccob was established as the first seabird rehabilitation organisation in South Africa.
Ms Westphal carried out extensive research to understand the lifestyle and dietary requirements of African penguins and started her official enquiries to establish a rescue operation for seabirds, with keen support from Dr Roy Siegfried of the Percy Fitzpatrick Institute at the University of Cape Town.
In 1971, the operation was moved to hired premises in Wetton, which provided a space to carry out essential work, as well as to establish the basics of cleaning and rehabilitating seabird patients for the next 13 years.
In 1983, a lease was obtained for a site next to the Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Table View and a prefab housing site was purchased from Caltex. The building was retro-fitted to Sanccob’s operational needs and remains the site of its current centre in the Western Cape.
In 2000, Sanccob responded to the widely publicised MV Treasure Oil Spill that affected nearly 40 000 African penguins. To date, it remains the biggest wildlife rescue in history. Sanccob strategically aligns itself with the South African government and the regional and international charters to which it is party. It is also a member of Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) – an international group of 10 best practice responders to ensure preparedness of resources in the event of another such spill.
As with all non-profit organisations, fundraising is critical to having such amenities in place to optimise its response to oil spills and to care for birds admitted to its centres. Public support of donations is heavily relied on to fulfil its operational needs to save seabirds.
A highlight in Sanccob’s history is the launch of its Chick Bolstering Project in 2006, in partnership with various conservation organisations to rescue and rehabilitate abandoned and weak African penguin chicks and to hand-rear chicks from eggs hatched at its facility. Nearly 5 000 chicks have been rehabilitated and released back to colonies since the project’s inception 11 years ago, proving the organisation’s success in boosting penguin numbers in the wild to save the endangered species from extinction.
Today, Sanccob operates three seabird centres strategically placed in Table View in the Western Cape, and Cape St Francis and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape and regularly rehabilitates other seabird species, including, the endangered Bank cormorant and Cape cormorant; various species of terns; pelagic birds such as albatrosses and petrels; oystercatchers, gulls, pelicans and other coastal seabirds that are found in the regions.
Sanccob’s research department, through various projects including a benchmark Seabird Health Survey and a Disease Surveillance Research Project, conducts research that continues to contribute towards the saving of the African penguin and other seabirds endemic to southern Africa. SSanccob also implements a wide range of educational programmes, reaching more than 20 000 pupils and other public audiences each year by offering public sessions, annual events and behind-the-scenes tours of its three centres.
The biggest development in Sanccob’s history is the current building of a new seabird hospital in Table View to increase its capacity to admit and treat even more seabirds, with improved facilities, taking its lead from Althea Westphal’s dream to see seabirds flourish. The construction is under way and the organisation is in desperate need of funding to complete this mammoth project. Sanccob urges you to get involved and consider a donation or to support with a fundraising drive of your own to help the organisation finish the new facility by December 2017. Donate a brick at just R50 each and leave a legacy for future generations. Visit www.sanccob.co.za for more information.
BLOB Ronnis Daniels is Sanccob’s marketing and fundraising officer.