Thursday, January 25, 2007

Historic visit by sub-Antarctic king takes rescuers by surprise

A KING penguin from the icy sub-Antarctic Islands surprised environmentalists at the weekend when it was found stranded on the beach at Thuyspunt near Cape St Francis.

It is only the third known sighting of the giant penguins on the South African coastline.

The strange visitor was rescued by Trudy Malan, the operations manager of the marine bird rehabilitation centre Ajubatus, and provincial environment department official Hennie de Beer, after a sighting by a member of the public.

Malan said the king penguin was nearly 1m tall. With yellow teardrop-shaped ear patches and a particularly calm demeanour, it was instantly recognisable, she said.

“Only two others have ever been recorded washed ashore in South Africa, at Blaauwberg in Cape Town in 1977 and at the Sundays River mouth in 1982.”

Malan was able to walk up next to the bird and lower a towel over its head, something that would have been impossible with the more aggressive African penguin.

The bird was carried to safety where a marine bird vet examined it and found it apparently unhurt. An antibiotic injection and re-hydrating fluid have been administered and blood samples will be taken to check for any further clues as to why it would have strayed so far from home, and to ensure that it has not picked up any local diseases.

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