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A Bird's eye view of seabird rescue at SANCCOB

Wednesday, March 3, 2021


After receiving a request for assistance from GOWRS project partner and seabird rescue specialists SANCCOB, OSRL South Africa's Shamen Bunsee, Pieter Van As and Mustapha Isaacs spent two weeks supporting SANCCOB's ongoing efforts to care for nearly 2,000 Cape cormorant chicks at their Cape Town facility. 

SANCCOB rescued the chicks from Robben Island after their parents abandoned them.

Here, Shamen Bunsee recounts his experience of helping with the rescue effort and his new-found appreciation for all the work that goes into wildlife response and for SANCCOB's team.

When SANCCOB asked OSRL to assist them with one of their Cape cormorant colonies during an emergency, we jumped at the opportunity. SANCCOB had recently trained the OSRL South Africa team on basic wildlife handling training, and we were keen to put this knowledge into practice to support the rescue effort.

When most people hear of a wildlife response, we all expect that we will be at the centre of the action, either handling wildlife or in an Operations centre helping to plan and assist with the operations, as did we. I have since learned that a tremendous amount of work is carried out in the background to ensure that the process runs smoothly. 

SANCCOB does not have a facility large enough to house over 2,000 chicks getting ready to fly, so an enormous amount of work is required to adapt the penguin-focussed facility.

When we arrived at SANCCOB on the 18th January, about 20 volunteers were all raring to go. After a briefing on the situation and what we would all be doing, we were ready to get to work. Still all excited to put our training into action, we were called aside and given a different set of requirements to fulfil - cleaning out sand filters.

Those who have pools will know that this is no easy task, especially when you have six to do while working in tight spaces. That took the entire day virtually. 

The next day we needed to put up more heating lamps for the chicks. However, no supplier had enough stock, so we spent most of the day finding suppliers of heating lamps. 

Late Tuesday afternoon, someone found a supplier and SANCCOB got an electrician out to get the lamps up. We then cleaned up an area by removing undergrowth and levelling it out (as best we could) where they wanted some washing lines installed, not knowing that was where we were going to be planting some washing line poles!

While we were doing all these tasks, SANCCOB staff and volunteers were hard at it, keeping the birds fed, watered and medicated.

After planting the washing poles, we assisted with adding extra shade netting onto a temporary enclosure and made a new pathway for their wheelie bins. We also had to collect a trailer load of donated snacks for the volunteers, the sand for the sand filters, equipment to secure fans and some rope to be used as perches for the chicks.

It was an eye-opener to see just how much extra work goes on in the background to keep the place running. What we were doing was just the tip of the iceberg. The staff and volunteers had their hands full with:

  • preparing food and medication for the chicks; 
  • washing out pens and mats; 
  • ensuring that the environment was neither too cool or hot
  • caring for the weak and injured chicks
  • constantly checking that the chicks were all alive as some were weak and fragile; 
  • feeding the chicks 
  • still taking care of the resident animals.

Along with all that the staff were trying to raise funds to support the rescue effort (SANCCOB operate solely on donations with no help from government) and to ensure that the facility can keep its doors open in the future. 

Volunteers make a real difference too. SANCCOB has a laundry facility onsite which needs replacing, so all the laundry generated daily is collected by volunteers washed and returned to SANCCOB.

At some point we must stand back and admire the resilience of the staff and volunteers that spend their free time to take care of the chicks and the strength of these chicks to be left abandoned and still survive this ordeal.   

SANCCOB are one of 10 leading wildlife response organisations participating in the OSRL-funded Global Oiled Wildlife Response System (GOWRS) Project. Find out more about the GOWRS project and a proposal for a future GOWRS Wildlife Supplementary Service here.  SANCCOB will be caring for and rearing these abandoned cormorant chicks for the next three months until they are ready to be released back the wild.


The photos below demonstrate some of the activities undertaken:

  • Cleaning space for washing lines
  • Filling concrete into holes
  • Chicks in a new temporary pen
  • Fresh food for chicks
  • Pools drained to make space for the chicks
  • Cleaning pool filters
  • Dirty laundry
  • Heating lamps being set up
  • Food being prepared along with feeding time
  • Medication preparation




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As a non government organisation SANCCOB rely on public support to carry out its conservation work. If you would like to get involved or donate please head to the SANCCOB Website.

Author Bio(s)

Paul Kelway

Wildlife Preparedness & Response Manager

Paul Kelway is the Wildlife Preparedness & Response Manager at Oil Spill Response Ltd.

Paul has worked in the field of oiled wildlife preparedness and response since 2000. He previously served as Senior Technical Advisor for the Sea Alarm Foundation - OSRL's Technical Advisors on wildlife preparedness and response - based in Brussels, Belgium. During his time with Sea Alarm he was also the Project Coordinator of the oil industry-funded Global Oiled Wildlife Response Team (GOWRS) Project. Prior to Sea Alarm, he also served as Executive Director of International Bird Rescue in California and as the Emergency Relief Manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Oiled Wildlife Division, based in the UK.

Paul has responded to oiled wildlife incidents in France, Spain, Norway, The Netherlands, Mexico, South Africa and the U.S. He also hold a master's degree in Business Administration & Organisational Leadership and a bachelor's degree in Political Science.