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Learning about Seabird Response with SANCCOB

Friday, December 4, 2020

Learning about Seabird Response with SANCCOB

Since the opening of the South African operation of Oil Spill Response Ltd in 2012, the South African team has formed a close relationship with SANCCOB in Cape Town. 

SANCCOB, a sea bird rescue and rehabilitation organisation in Southern Africa, has two facilities in South Africa and a third potentially on the cards for Namibia. The organisation is an active member of the Global Oiled Wildlife Response Services (GOWRS), and 100% reliant on donations for its survival. 

The team, under the leadership of Dr Stephen van der Spuy, provide an essential service in this part of the world, particularly in its fight to save the critically endangered African Penguin which, at the current rate of decline will be fundamentally extinct as a species in the wild within the next 10 to 15 years. 

 Over the years, OSRL's South African team has assisted SANCCOB with the transporting of injured or sick sea birds from the west coast, where OSRL's SWIS base is located, to their seabird hospital in Cape Town. 

Within the last two to three years, we are finding more and more sick and injured seabirds on the SWIS site. Catching these birds can be a comical affair, but also a worrying one, as our strict HSE protocols need to be taken into account. This led me to investigate ways on how we can do this better and more safely - as seabirds bite, seriously bite. 

Fortunately for me, as I started putting thought to this idea, Paul Kelway, Wildlife Response and Preparedness Manager joined the business. Together, with support from Paul Foley, Response Manager, EMEA and Africa, we came up with thoughts for a training course.  

I approached SANCCOB with our thoughts. SANCCOB warmly and enthusiastically embraced the idea, and appointed Romy Klusener their Rehabilitation Manager to draw up a training course. 

Romy, with injections from Nicky Stander, drew up a two-day course for us, which concentrated on how to safely handle and transfer oiled, sick or injured seabirds from the area of capture to a rehabilitation centre.   

Although the course was a two-day course, it was run over three days to allow for COVID-19 safety protocols. 

Day One - covered all the theory and practical demonstrations in the classroom.  

 Day Two - the practical part of handling the birds safely 

The course kicked off at 08h00 on the 05th Nov 2020, with myself, Lesley Roberts, Shamen Bunsee, Mustapha Issacs and Pieter van As reporting to the SANCCOB Cape town facility.  

Following completion of all compulsory COVID-19 requirements, plus safety briefings including being shown the muster stations, we went into the lecture room where we were spaced 2.5 metres apart from one another, and so commenced day one.  

Although a pain, face masks were compulsory for the entire duration of the course as was regular hand sanitisation. 



In a nutshell we covered the following 

  • Plight of the African Penguin 
  • Effects of pollution in all forms on seabirds 
  • Building or assembly of the cardboard transportation boxes, used to move oiled or injured seabirds from site of capture to rehab facilities   
  • Importance of ventilation and warmth when moving oiled sea birds  
  • Segregation based on age of sea birds in the transport boxes  
  • Basic Triage to be followed assessing oiled or injured birds - to allow comfortable transportation   
  • Method on handling the various species of seabirds  
  • Reviewed a few case studies      

We were also fortunate to watch the resident veterinarian and his team pin a broken wing of an Oyster Catcher for a few minutes. Fortunately, the operating theatre has a viewing window, which allows for spectators to watch proceedings without getting in the way or compromising the sterile environment of the theatre.   


DAY TWO - here the team was split up with the other half of our team reporting the next day 

On Day Two, we arrived at SANCCOB and were issued with our "bird PPE" - which consisted of an oilskin and safety glasses. We used our own, gloves, rubber Crocs and rubber arm gauntlets. How I wished I had those in 2000 - I still have the mental scars of the MV Treasure oil spill of 2000, when human flesh from my arms and any other part of my body a penguin could get to was penguin food! 

The day consisted of us helping the SANCCOB team, catch, weigh, feed and medicate the sea birds undergoing rehabilitation - we also helped prepare their food. 

By the end of the day's session, we all had caught and handled Penguins, Kelp Gulls, Hartlaub Gulls and Swift Terns, which were the only sea birds in the rehabilitation pens. They did have a few others species like the Oyster Catcher, but these were still in hospital recovering from surgery. 

I have to admit it was a fantastic experience, being taught how to catch and handle sea birds safely and correctly. I am already discussing the lessons learned and ideas for improvement to see how best we can roll this out across OSRL. This will give all our responders an insight into what wildlife rehabilitation experts need to have in place, should they attend to a spill where wildlife is heavily impacted.