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Return to Robben Island of African Penguins that were rehabilitated, relocated or reared in captivity following the Treasure oil spill of 2000

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Following an oil spill from the Treasure off the coast of South Africa in June 2000, about 19 000 oiled African Penguins Spheniscus demersus, including 14 825 from Robben Island, were caught for rehabilitation and subsequent release. A further 19 500 penguins that were not oiled — mostly birds in adult plumage, including 7 000 from Robben Island — were relocated some 700km to the east, to prevent them becoming oiled. Additionally, 3 350 orphaned chicks, including 2 643 from Robben Island — were collected for rearing in captivity and release to the wild. Some four years later — by the end of December 2004 — 70% of rehabilitated adults, 40% of relocated birds and 34% of captive-reared chicks had been seen back at Robben Island. Another 7% of birds relocated from Robben Island had been sighted at other localities. Rates of resighting rehabilitated birds were similar at Robben and Dassen Islands, but a greater proportion of relocated birds was seen at Dassen Island, where birds collected for relocation were mostly from breeding areas. The lower proportion of relocated birds seen at Robben Island is thought to result from this intervention causing some pre-breeding birds to move to other colonies. All three conservation interventions are considered to have been successful, but it is premature to assess their relative contributions to the conservation of the species. Three relocated birds tracked by satellite took 15–21 days to return to their home colonies. This rapid return may have resulted from breeding attempts being interrupted. After remaining at their home islands for 4–5 days, two of the tracked birds then left these islands for 19–36 days. We surmise that, after they had searched unsuccessfully for their mates, they abandoned breeding for the year 2000.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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