Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Guest Post | The day it rained sardines in Namibia: Part 3

Dr. Jessica Kemper is an expert and advocate for the endangered African penguinIn this series of posts, she describes a unique resupply mission to help rescued African penguin chicks being hand-raised in Namibia.  Read Part 1, which ended with the rehabilitation team asking for help getting food for the young chicks in their care. In Part 2, Jessica springs into action! Keep reading for the exciting conclusion. And make plans to see penguins in person here at the Aquarium—we have more than 80 birds on exhibit!

Gino’s voice sounds far away through my headphones. “I’m going to first fly a loop past the island so we can check out the best way to do this. Don’t want to bludgeon any birds or the two small solar panels next to the house with our fish bricks, so we need to find an open space near the building to aim the parcels at.” Gino slows down the plane and we discuss our strategy.

The yellow plane: Kilo-Tango-Charlie, Gino’s canary-yellow Citabria.
Photo: I. Weisel

Okay, here goes. Our first fly-past. Gino opens his window, I hand him the first parcel and hold my breath. NOW! Gino throws it out of the window and immediately pulls the plane into a steep left-hand bank, away from the island. “Can you see where it landed?” he shouts. “Spot-on Gino. It landed next to the balcony!!!” I can see Joan and Rian hopping up and down, giving us the thumbs-up.

Sitting behind Gino: not much space in the plane | Photo: I. Weisel

Four more fly-pasts later (one parcel went into the sea but the rest landed where they were supposed to) we are on our way home. The desert below us is glowing gold in the late afternoon light and we chat cheerfully all the way back to the L├╝deritz airfield. It is dark by the time we have parked Gino’s plane in its shed and are back in town. The phone rings. “Please do not hang up…this call is from a radio…do not speak until after the tone…beeeeeep.” Static crackles over the line. “Jessica, it’s Joan, can you hear me? I just wanted to let you know that we currently have five very content chicks with full bellies sitting in our kitchen; thank you so much – over.” When I hang up the phone I smile. I certainly don’t want to do this again in a hurry, but it had all been worth it.

View from the lounge: the hardships of living a lonely island life are compensated by
the company of thousands of birds outside the lounge window.
Photo: Jessica Kemper

PS: these events took place on March 26, 2003. The vessel servicing the islands was repaired a few days after our rescue flight and delivered lots of frozen sardines to the island. The four penguin chicks and Katanga the Cape gannet chick all fledged successfully. Rian still lives on Mercury Island and monitors the seabird populations there.

Cape gannets: Mercury supports the northernmost of only six Cape gannet colonies in the world. Their numbers have dwindled drastically in Namibia and they are now considered “critically endangered” there.
Photo: Jessica Kemper

Dr. Jessica Kemper is an expert and advocate for the endangered African penguin.  Formerly the head of Section for Namibia's Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) and responsible for the conservation management and rescue of the country's seabirds, Jessica now heads the African Penguin Conservation Project. She continues to research Namibia's dwindling penguin population to find ways to improve their conservation status and runs the Seabird Rehabilitation Center in L├╝deritz. Population numbers for African penguins have decreased to just 55,000 today from an approximate 1.5 million figure in 1910.

Read all of her guests posts on the Penguin Blog here.