CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (Dec. 8, 2016) – Today, penguin care experts from Georgia Aquarium, joined with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB)—an internationally recognized leader in treating threatened seabirds— released 23 rehabilitated African penguin chicks (Spheniscus demersus) that had been rescued along the South African coast after being abandoned. These strandings have increased in recent years, averaging between 600 and 900 penguins needing rescue and rehabilitation, due to environmental factors such as oil spills, predation, food shortages and habitat degradation. African penguin population numbers have dropped 60 percent in the past 30 years and are considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

One of SANCCOB’s largest donors, Georgia Aquarium has donated more than $250,000 since 2009 to support the organization’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts. This includes a $40,000 gift presented on-site this week as Aquarium representatives assisted with seabird care and penguin releases. These funds were generated with the help of a program at the Aquarium allowing guests to round up their gift shop purchases to the next dollar to donate toward research and conservation initiatives.

“It is incredibly rewarding to partner with SANCCOB—one of our longest standing research and conservation partners—and apply the work we do at the Aquarium to help save animals in the wild,” said Dennis Christen, senior director of zoological operations, mammals and birds at Georgia Aquarium. “Our work in South Africa enables us to take better care of our population at home, and provides us with the insights needed to offer solutions to pressing conservation challenges.”

Georgia Aquarium will also partner with local K-8 Atlanta-based school Centennial Academy tomorrow, Friday, Dec. 9 for a 30-minute live-stream educational session direct from SANCCOB. The Aquarium has collaborated with Centennial Academy for several years, and starting in August of 2016, students in the gifted program grades 1-5 use Aquarium classroom spaces as primary classrooms every day during the 2016-2017 school year. The effort aims to blur the line between the "classroom" and the "real world" and push the boundaries of what learning could look like in an urban setting in the 21st century.

 

Georgia Aquarium also helped SANCOBB with the first-ever health assessment of penguin populations found naturally on South African islands in 2009. In 2010, when SANCCOB was confronted with a record number of abandoned penguin chicks, with Georgia Aquarium’s financial support, the rescue center had more than 80 percent success rate for the release of the orphaned animals. In 2015, SANCCOB’s efforts produced an 85 percent success rate.

Georgia Aquarium’s penguin conservation efforts begin at home in Atlanta where guests can learn from the more than 50 African penguins living at the aquarium. Through the Aquarium’s encounter program, more than 18,000 guests have learned about what is happening with penguin populations and how Georgia Aquarium is supporting SANCCOB’s efforts. Georgia Aquarium also works to ensure the long-term genetic diversity and physiological health of African penguins within human care through selective and strategic breeding as part of the Species Survival Plan coordinated through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Since joining, the Aquarium has hatched 26 African penguin chicks. The animal care team plans to have multiple African penguin breeding pairs in 2017.

For additional information on African penguins and Georgia Aquarium’s research and conservation efforts, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org/african-penguins To read more about Georgia Aquarium’s partnership with SANCCOB, visit georgiaaquariumblog.org. Stay up-to-date with the Aquarium’s penguin care team in South Africa by following Georgia Aquarium on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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ABOUT GEORGIA AQUARIUM
Georgia Aquarium is a leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization located in Atlanta, Ga. that is Certified Humane by the American Humane Association and accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Georgia Aquarium is committed to working on behalf of all marine life through education, preservation, exceptional animal care, and research across the globe. Georgia Aquarium continues its mission each day to inspire, educate, and entertain its millions of guests about the aquatic biodiversity throughout the world through its hundreds of exhibits and tens of thousands of animals across its seven major galleries. For more information, visit georgiaaquarium.org