parallax background

Adopt a penguin

23 September 2020
Kirstenbosh – the fairy tale garden
22 September 2020
Malva pudding with Amarula Cream Liqueur
3 October 2020

I saw a photo of these cute birds a few years ago on the internet and was really amazed that penguins, which I had associated only with living in Antarctica, were sunbathing on a white sandy beach in Africa! 😁

African penguins can only be found in their natural habitat in South Africa. They also breed in central Namibia and they live in colonies, two of which are located near Cape Town, on the popular Boulders Beach in Simons Town and Betty's Bay.

The latter is home to the largest colony consisting of 2,000 couples at the present moment. Compared to the beginning of the 20th century, when 1.45 million penguins lived on the island of Dassen which is located on the West Coast (Yzerfontein) of Cape Town, their population has drastically decreased. African penguins are now considered an endangered species mostly due to the reduction of safe breeding sites and environmental pollution. Oil spills from ships are especially dangerous. Additionally, extensive fishing means less food for them.


SANCCOB plays a vital and important role in rescuing penguins and other endangered seabirds. With two locations with one in Cape Town and the other in the Eastern Cape, it has become a centre of aid and an educational centre. I visited them to learn more about the team's work and how we can help save these beautiful birds.

Penguins in SANCCOB are divided into permanent and temporary residents. The permanent residents whom are based at the centre stay here because of their injuries or due to their strong attachment to humans. SANCCOB releases them after chipping them, however they are still not able to function in the wild and the centre becomes their home. Each penguin based at the centre have unique personalities and are named by their caregivers. The amazing thing about these birds is that they pair and mate for life, unless one of them disappears for a longer period of time, then only do they seek a new partner. The oldest penguin “Flo”, has been at SANCCOB since 1999. She is estimated to be at least 21 years old, and she is in a happy and committed relationship with a younger penguin “Milo” (whoever said a woman couldn't have a younger partner?😉). An interesting fact is that the sex of these animals cannot be determined by the naked eye. For this you need DNA tests to distinguish between a male or a female. That's why funny enough, a penguin named “Ballerina” is actually a male and Steve is a female. Each of the permanent residents have their own individual character and quirks. There is a penguin called “Princess” who lives up to her name as she is supposedly moody, and Rocky loves calamari in addition to the standard fish diet.


The centre is very well equipped. In addition to the main pool, where the permanent resident penguins live and have their "houses", there are also pools for their training and rehabilitation of the temporary residents. SANCCOB has a three-stage training system that allows them to get used to swimming and creates a stimulating natural environment. There are also special rooms with incubators where the chicks hatch. Regulars such as Milo and Flo look after newly hatched chicks. Every quarter, employees check the penguin's weight, blood, fur quality (water resistance depends on it) and do x-rays. All the facilities are here, just like in a real hospital would operate. After passing the tests and rehabilitation programme, a decision is made whether to release the bird into its natural habitat.

Volunteers come to the centre from all over the world. There are also specially trained rangers who monitor the coast and deliver both injured or maladaptive penguins and abandoned eggs.


How can we help? We can do a lot more than making a simple donation. For a fee of R1000 we can adopt a permanent, already named resident, R600 is the price for a penguin temporarily staying in the centre, whom we can name ourselves. R300 is the cost of adopting an egg. The fee is annual and covers the cost of food and medicines. After making a transfer or paying on the spot, we receive a certificate with information about our adoptee. This is how I became the "mother" of Enrique, the penguin, who ended up at SANCCOB due to malnutrition, among others. Of course, "my" Enrique can be adopted by other people who will give him a different name, but it’s an honourable cause and I really don't mind. 😁

You can find more information about adoption here.


As I mentioned before, one of the biggest threats to African penguins is oil. South Africa's coast is one of the main shipping routes. 30% of oil from the Middle East is transported on this route to Europe as well as South America and North America. Accidents happen frequently with oil spillages and when penguins come into contact with the oil, they lose their water resistance. They get cold and too weak to fish. They become anaemic and can catch pneumonia. What's more, the oil causes ulcers on their skin, eyes and intestines. Therefore, in SANCCOB, they also have a special room dedicated solely to cleaning penguins of the deadly substance.

SANCCOB’s founding story is also associated with the oil industry. In the late 1960s, there was a major leak from the Esso Essen ship. The extraordinary woman Althea Louise Burman Westphal decided to save 60 penguins. She set up a temporary centre in her home in the suburbs of Cape Town. She scrubbed them with soap, rinsed and fed them. The birds had a swimming pool at their disposal in her garden and two or three times a week they were taken to the beach, where they marched into the tidal basin (it is a rock tank filled with seawater) and allowed to swim for an hour. Althea was determined to convince many South African’s and global ecological organizations and individuals that the penguin population was declining and that a professional shelter was needed to save this species. She achieved her goal and in 1968 an internationally recognized coastal bird rehabilitation centre was established.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of one of the worst environmental disasters to have happened on the South African coast. SANCCOB, local and international experts and 45,000 volunteers took active part in saving 19,000 penguins over the course of three months. I encourage you to watch the YouTube film here, from this largest animal rescue operation in the world so far.

Immediately after visiting the foundation, I drove to the town of Betty's Bay, about 1.5 hours drive from Cape Town, to see penguins in their natural habitat. Even on a cloudy day, the views were spectacular. It was also the first time I saw such large baboons. Pierwszy raz widziałam też tak duże pawiany 😱. Below you can find my video of my trip to Betty’s Bay.

On the other side of the bay is Simons Town with the most popular Boulders Beach home to African penguins. It is a must see during a trip to the Cape of Good Hope. You can also come across them on Robben Island. It doesn't really matter where you see these cute little creatures while in South Africa. Meeting and observing them is a great experience that will stay in your memory for a long time. I encourage you to adopt them. That way you can make our own contribution and help save them.

Some interesting facts about Enrique (and other African penguins😁):

  • Height around 65 cm
  • Mass: 3,1 kg (female), 3,6 kg (male)
  • Lifespan: They live usually 10-15 years, but many live as long as 20 years and the oldest known was 27
  • Feeding: African Penguin feed mainly on oil-rich fish -especially pilchards and anchovies. As the numbers of these fish have declined, the penguins increasingly eat less nutritious squid and small crustaceans.
  • Adult penguins shed their feathers annually. During this time, they look as if they were sick. Before the moult they feed t get fat. Unable to swim for long when in moult they go without feeding for three weeks during the moulting season, so they fast for three weeks and during this time live on the fat reserves.
  • Strong swimmers, they normally travel at 3km/h but to escape danger reach 10 km/h, and exceptionally, even 19 km/h.
  • They have their enemies: seals and sharks at sea, otters on land.
  • They form of communication is a loud cry which sounds similar to a donkey.
  • Most start to breed when 4-6 years old. They build their nests under bushes or in burrows. Two white eggs are usually laid. The eggs are incubated for 38-41 days, and the little ones are fed by their parents for two-three months. It takes about 25 kg of fish to feed a chick.
  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    PolskiPolski EnglishEnglish