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SANCCOB: Penguin & Seabird Rescue Center In South Africa


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Marin Miner



Welcome to SANCCOB, the Penguin & Seabird Rescue Center in South Africa. Located along the picturesque coastline of Cape Town, SANCCOB has been at the forefront of rescuing and rehabilitating injured, oiled, and abandoned penguins and seabirds for over 50 years. With a team of dedicated experts and volunteers, SANCCOB plays a vital role in the conservation and protection of these unique and charismatic ocean creatures.


At SANCCOB, every day is a new adventure as they work tirelessly to give these birds a second chance at life. From African Penguins to Cape Gannets and Cape Cormorants, SANCCOB provides specialized care for a wide variety of seabird species. Their mission extends beyond rescue and rehabilitation; they are also actively involved in research, conservation, and community education programs, making a significant impact on the future of South Africa’s marine biodiversity.


Through this article, we will delve into the history, mission, and achievements of SANCCOB. We will explore the incredible work they do, the challenges they face, and the meaningful ways in which individuals can get involved.


History of SANCCOB

The story of SANCCOB began in 1968 when a group of concerned individuals came together to address the alarming decline of the African Penguin population. These passionate individuals recognized the urgent need to establish a dedicated rescue and rehabilitation center for these charismatic seabirds. Thus, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) was born.


Initially, SANCCOB operated out of a small garage in the coastal town of Sea Point, Cape Town. With limited resources but boundless determination, the team at SANCCOB started rescuing abandoned and injured penguins, providing them with first aid and a safe place to recover. As word spread about their efforts, support from the local community began to pour in.


Over the years, SANCCOB expanded its operations and developed specialized facilities to meet the growing demand for seabird rehabilitation. In 1989, a purpose-built seabird hospital was constructed at the iconic Cape Recife Nature Reserve in Port Elizabeth. This facility became the heart of SANCCOB’s rescue and rehabilitation efforts, allowing them to provide world-class care to the birds in need.


Today, SANCCOB operates two centers, one in Cape Town and another in Port Elizabeth, effectively covering the entire South African coastline. Due to their dedication and expertise, SANCCOB has gained international recognition as a leading authority on the rescue and rehabilitation of penguins and seabirds.


Throughout their journey, SANCCOB has faced numerous challenges, such as oil spills, habitat destruction, and declining fish stocks. However, through resilience and collaboration, they continue to make a positive impact on the survival of South Africa’s seabird populations.


With a rich history spanning over five decades, SANCCOB remains committed to its mission of conserving seabirds and their habitats, ensuring a future where these unique creatures thrive along the South African coastlines.


Mission and Goals

The mission of SANCCOB is to conserve and protect South Africa’s threatened seabird populations through rescue, rehabilitation, and release programs. They aim to ensure the survival and well-being of penguins and other seabirds, contribute to scientific research, and raise awareness about the importance of marine conservation.


At the core of their mission is the commitment to providing quality care to injured, abandoned, and oiled seabirds. SANCCOB’s dedicated team of veterinarians, avian experts, and rehabilitation staff work tirelessly to treat and rehabilitate these birds, using state-of-the-art facilities and innovative techniques.


In addition to their rescue and rehabilitation efforts, SANCCOB places great emphasis on long-term conservation strategies. They actively participate in research initiatives to better understand the health, behavior, and ecology of seabirds. By partnering with universities, research institutes, and conservation organizations, SANCCOB contributes valuable data and insights to inform conservation strategies on a national and global scale.


Furthermore, SANCCOB strives to engage and educate the public about the importance of seabird conservation. Through their community outreach programs, they raise awareness about the threats facing seabirds and the actions individuals can take to make a positive impact. SANCCOB also offers educational programs for schools and universities, inspiring the next generation of environmental stewards.


Among their goals is the preservation of seabird habitats, advocating for sustainable fishing practices, and actively participating in initiatives to reduce marine pollution. By collaborating with government agencies, non-profit organizations, and local communities, SANCCOB aims to create a future where seabird populations can thrive in healthy and intact ecosystems.


In summary, SANCCOB’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate, and release seabirds, conduct research to enhance conservation efforts, and educate the public about the importance of marine wildlife preservation. Their goals encompass the long-term preservation of seabird populations and their habitats, ultimately contributing to the overall health of South Africa’s coastal ecosystems.


SANCCOB’s Location and Facilities

SANCCOB operates two main centers strategically located along the South African coastline – one in Cape Town and another in Port Elizabeth. This allows them to effectively respond to seabird emergencies and provide timely assistance to injured or stranded birds.


The Cape Town facility, situated in the suburb of Table View, is just a stone’s throw away from the beautiful sandy shores of Bloubergstrand. This location provides easy access to the Atlantic coastline, where African Penguins and other seabird species can be found. The Cape Town center boasts modern and well-equipped facilities, including an intensive care unit, a seabird hospital, and specialized rehabilitation pools.


The Port Elizabeth facility is based within the Cape Recife Nature Reserve, overlooking the vast Indian Ocean. This center, with its state-of-the-art seabird hospital, offers a safe haven for injured and distressed seabirds. The location is essential as it allows SANCCOB to respond swiftly to emergencies along the eastern coastline of South Africa.


Both centers are designed to cater to the unique needs of the various seabird species found in the region. They are equipped with saltwater pools of varying sizes, providing the perfect environment for injured birds to regain their strength and recondition themselves for their return to the wild. The facilities also include quarantine areas, surgical rooms, and spacious enclosures for the birds to exercise and gradually adapt to their natural behaviors.


Importantly, both centers adhere to strict biosecurity protocols to prevent the spread of diseases and to ensure the well-being of the resident and visiting seabirds. This is crucial in maintaining a safe and healthy environment for the birds under their care.


In addition to their main facilities, SANCCOB also maintains a network of satellite rescue and rehabilitation centers, strategically located along the coast. These satellite centers act as temporary holding facilities for rescued birds before they are transported to the main centers for specialized care.


Together, these facilities form the backbone of SANCCOB’s rehabilitation efforts, providing a sanctuary for injured, oiled, and abandoned seabirds. The dedicated staff and volunteers work tirelessly to ensure that each bird receives the utmost care and attention, with the ultimate goal of releasing them back into their natural habitats.


Types of Penguins and Seabirds Rescued

SANCCOB is committed to the rescue and rehabilitation of a wide range of penguin and seabird species found along the South African coastline. While their primary focus is on the African Penguin, they also provide care for other seabirds that find themselves in distress.


African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are the flagship species for SANCCOB. These charismatic birds, known for their distinctive black and white plumage and unique braying call, have experienced a significant decline in numbers over the years due to various threats. SANCCOB plays a crucial role in rescuing and rehabilitating this endangered species, with the aim of boosting their population and ensuring their survival in the wild.


In addition to African Penguins, SANCCOB provides care for several other penguin species that may occasionally need assistance, including the Gentoo Penguin, Rockhopper Penguin, and Magellanic Penguin. These species, while not as common as the African Penguin, can sometimes be found along the South African coasts and may require rehabilitation if injured or in distress.


Aside from penguins, SANCCOB also rescues and rehabilitates various seabird species that are commonly found in the region. This includes the Cape Gannet (Morus capensis), a large and elegant seabird known for its stunning white plumage, yellow crown, and exceptional diving abilities. Cape Gannets often face threats such as entanglement in fishing gear and oil spills, and SANCCOB works diligently to provide them with the care they need for a successful recovery.


Another seabird species that benefits from SANCCOB’s expertise is the Cape Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis). These dark-colored birds, with their distinctive long necks and hooked bills, are often found in large colonies along the South African coastline. Cape Cormorants can suffer from various ailments, including disease outbreaks and oil pollution, and SANCCOB plays a vital role in rescuing and rehabilitating them to ensure their survival.


Furthermore, SANCCOB extends its assistance to other sea bird species, such as the Bank Cormorant, African Black Oystercatcher, and various species of seagulls and terns. The dedicated team at SANCCOB has the expertise and knowledge to provide the specific care required for each species, ensuring the best chance of recovery and ultimately, release back into the wild.


By focusing on a diverse range of penguins and seabirds, SANCCOB contributes to the conservation and protection of these magnificent creatures, preserving their place in the rich and fragile coastal ecosystems of South Africa.


Causes of Penguin and Seabird Strandings

Penguin and seabird strandings occur for various reasons, and understanding these causes is crucial in developing strategies to mitigate the threats faced by these vulnerable species. SANCCOB is well-versed in identifying and addressing the underlying causes of strandings, allowing them to provide targeted care and rehabilitation to the affected birds.


One of the primary causes of strandings is human activity. Coastal development, pollution, and the impact of climate change can disrupt the natural habitats of penguins and seabirds, leading to an increased risk of injury or displacement. Habitat destruction, through activities such as coastal development and destruction of nesting sites, can disrupt breeding patterns and result in abandoned chicks or injured adults.


Fishing activities also pose a significant threat to penguins and seabirds. Birds can get caught in fishing nets, hooks, and lines, leading to injuries or even drowning. Additionally, overfishing can deplete the fish stocks that these birds rely on, forcing them to venture further and compete for limited resources.


Oil spills are another major cause of penguin and seabird strandings. When oil spills occur in the ocean, birds become coated in the toxic substance, impairing their ability to fly, thermoregulate, and hunt for food. Oiled birds require immediate rescue and specialized treatment to remove the oil and rehabilitate their feathers and health.


Environmental factors such as extreme weather events can also contribute to strandings. Storms, cyclones, and strong winds can disorient and exhaust birds, leading to them becoming stranded on beaches or in unfamiliar territories. Additionally, changing oceanic conditions, including warming temperatures and shifts in food availability, can impact the distribution and abundance of prey species, affecting the overall health and survival of penguins and seabirds.


Finally, diseases and infections can play a significant role in the strandings of these birds. Outbreaks of avian diseases, such as avian influenza and avian cholera, can rapidly spread within seabird colonies, resulting in mass mortalities. These outbreaks often require immediate intervention and specialized care to prevent further spread and protect the remaining populations.


SANCCOB works diligently to address the causes of penguin and seabird strandings through various means. They collaborate with government agencies, conservation organizations, and local communities to advocate for sustainable fishing practices, protect and restore critical habitats, and mitigate the impact of pollution and climate change. Their efforts help to create a safer and healthier environment for penguins and seabirds, reducing the likelihood of strandings and ensuring the long-term survival of these incredible species.


The Rescue and Rehabilitation Process at SANCCOB

The rescue and rehabilitation process at SANCCOB is a well-coordinated effort aimed at providing the best care possible for injured, abandoned, and oiled penguins and seabirds. Their experienced team follows a comprehensive process to ensure the successful recovery and eventual release of these birds back into the wild.


When a stranded bird is reported or brought to SANCCOB, immediate action is taken to assess its condition and provide any necessary emergency care. Trained volunteers and staff members carefully handle the birds, ensuring minimal stress and harm. The birds undergo a thorough examination to determine their overall health, including checking for injuries, assessing their body condition, and monitoring vital signs.


If the bird is found to be oiled, specialized teams step in to perform the delicate task of cleaning the feathers. Oil can be toxic and impair a bird’s ability to stay buoyant and maintain proper body temperature. Using a combination of mild detergent and warm water, SANCCOB’s trained professionals gently wash the bird’s feathers, carefully removing the oil while minimizing stress to the bird.


Once the initial assessment and necessary treatments, such as wound care or hydration, are completed, the bird is placed in a suitable rehabilitation enclosure. SANCCOB has various pools and enclosures designed to meet the specific needs of different bird species and stages of rehabilitation. These enclosures provide a safe and controlled environment for the bird to regain strength, practice essential survival skills, and improve fitness for release.


Throughout the rehabilitation process, the birds are closely monitored by SANCCOB’s team of veterinarians, avian experts, and dedicated volunteers. The birds receive specialized diets tailored to their nutritional needs, ensuring optimal health and growth. Physical therapy and exercise routines are implemented to help the birds regain strength, improve their flight capabilities, and develop hunting skills necessary for their return to the wild.


Releasing the birds back into their natural habitats is a significant milestone in the rehabilitation process. SANCCOB carefully selects appropriate release sites, considering factors like proximity to the bird’s original location, suitable habitat conditions, and the presence of conspecifics (birds of the same species). The release process is closely monitored to ensure the birds successfully reintegrate into their wild environments and have the best chance of survival.


Throughout the entire rescue and rehabilitation process, SANCCOB places a strong emphasis on animal welfare, following strict ethical guidelines and international best practices. Their experienced and compassionate team works tirelessly to provide the highest standard of care, ensuring the birds are given the best opportunity for a successful return to the wild.


Success Stories and Impact

Over the years, SANCCOB has achieved numerous success stories in their mission to rescue and rehabilitate penguins and seabirds, making a significant impact on the conservation of these species and their habitats.


One notable success story is the African Penguin population. Through SANCCOB’s dedicated efforts, the decline of this endangered species has been slowed, and even reversed in some areas. By rescuing and rehabilitating abandoned or injured chicks, as well as adults affected by oil spills or other threats, SANCCOB has contributed to the growth of stable African Penguin colonies along the South African coast.


In addition to the African Penguin, SANCCOB has successfully rehabilitated and released many other seabird species, including Cape Gannets, Cape Cormorants, and various species of seagulls and terns. These releases have a positive impact on the overall health and diversity of seabird populations, ensuring the continuation of vital ecological roles these birds play in marine ecosystems.


Beyond individual success stories, SANCCOB’s impact extends to larger scale conservation efforts and scientific research. The organization actively collaborates with other conservation organizations, government agencies, and academic institutions to gather data and develop strategies for the long-term preservation of penguins and seabirds.


Thanks to their expertise and dedication, SANCCOB has become a recognized leader in the field of seabird rehabilitation. Their research and conservation initiatives have helped shape national and international policies for the protection of seabirds, influencing sustainable fishing practices, habitat conservation, and wildlife response strategies during oil spill incidents.


SANCCOB’s impact goes beyond the birds they rescue and rehabilitate. They play a crucial role in raising awareness about the importance of seabird conservation through various educational programs and community outreach initiatives. By engaging with schools, universities, and local communities, SANCCOB inspires individuals to take action and become advocates for the protection of marine ecosystems.


The success stories of SANCCOB are a testament to the incredible difference that can be made when passionate individuals and organizations come together with a common goal. Their work not only saves individual birds but also contributes to the overall health and resilience of South Africa’s coastal ecosystems. Through their dedication and impact, SANCCOB continues to be a beacon of hope for penguins and seabirds, ensuring a brighter future for these remarkable creatures and the environments they call home.


Conservation and Research at SANCCOB

Conservation and research are central pillars of SANCCOB’s mission to protect and preserve penguins and seabirds. Through their dedicated efforts in these areas, SANCCOB contributes to the understanding of these species and the implementation of effective conservation strategies.


SANCCOB actively participates in research initiatives to enhance our knowledge of seabird biology, behavior, and ecology. Through collaborations with universities, research institutes, and conservation organizations, SANCCOB collects valuable data on seabird populations, migration patterns, and breeding success. This scientific research helps identify key conservation priorities and informs management strategies for the long-term survival of these species.


The organization also plays a vital role in monitoring and mitigating the impact of environmental threats on penguins and seabirds. This includes monitoring the health and population trends of different species, assessing the impact of climate change and pollution on seabird habitats, and developing targeted conservation measures to address these challenges.


Furthermore, SANCCOB actively engages in community education and outreach programs to raise awareness about the importance of marine conservation. By connecting with schools, universities, and local communities, they foster a sense of stewardship and inspire individuals to protect and preserve our oceans and its wildlife.


One of SANCCOB’s notable conservation initiatives is their work in addressing the threats posed by oil pollution. As an internationally recognized response organization, they play a vital role in mobilizing teams to rescue and rehabilitate oiled penguins and seabirds during oil spill incidents. Their experience and expertise in this area have not only saved countless birds but have also led to improvements in oil spill response protocols and the development of effective techniques for cleaning oiled feathers.


In addition to their conservation efforts, SANCCOB actively contributes to the development of national and international policies and guidelines for the protection of seabirds. Through representation and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations, SANCCOB advocates for strengthened legislation, sustainable fishing practices, and the establishment of marine protected areas to safeguard critical seabird habitats and populations.


In summary, SANCCOB’s commitment to conservation and research is a driving force behind their efforts to protect and preserve penguins and seabirds. Through their research initiatives, scientific partnerships, and community outreach programs, SANCCOB contributes to a better understanding of these species and strives to ensure their long-term survival in the face of environmental threats.


Volunteer and Internship Opportunities

SANCCOB offers exciting volunteer and internship opportunities for individuals passionate about marine conservation and wildlife rehabilitation. These opportunities allow participants to work closely with the dedicated team at SANCCOB, gaining hands-on experience while making a meaningful contribution to the organization’s mission.


Volunteers play a vital role in supporting the day-to-day operations at SANCCOB. They assist with various tasks, including feeding and cleaning enclosures, preparing specialized diets, and providing enrichment for the birds under care. Volunteers also help with maintenance and upkeep of facilities, aiding in the smooth operation of the rehabilitation center.


Volunteering at SANCCOB offers a unique chance to engage with penguins and seabirds up close, witnessing their rehabilitation journey first-hand. It is an opportunity to learn from experienced professionals in the field and to gain insight into the complexities of marine conservation. Volunteers also have the chance to contribute to education and outreach initiatives, helping to raise awareness about the importance of protecting seabirds and their habitats.


For those seeking a more immersive experience, SANCCOB offers internship opportunities in various areas of expertise. Interns work alongside the experienced staff and veterinarians, gaining valuable skills and knowledge in the field of wildlife rehabilitation. Internship positions may be available in areas such as animal care, veterinary support, research, or education and outreach.


Interns have the opportunity to take part in the day-to-day operations of the rehabilitation center, assisting in the evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation of birds. They may also assist with research projects, data collection, or community education programs. The experience gained through these internships can be invaluable for individuals pursuing a career in wildlife conservation, veterinary sciences, or related fields.


It is important to note that volunteer and internship positions at SANCCOB are highly competitive, and applicants are required to demonstrate a genuine passion for wildlife conservation, a willingness to learn, and a commitment to the organization’s mission. Positions may also have specific requirements or time commitments, so it is advisable to thoroughly review the application process and guidelines provided by SANCCOB.


Engaging in volunteer or internship opportunities at SANCCOB not only offers a chance to make a tangible difference in the lives of penguins and seabirds but also provides a unique learning experience in a dynamic and rewarding environment. Whether volunteering for a short stint or participating in a more extensive internship, these opportunities offer a chance to contribute to the conservation of South Africa’s marine biodiversity and gain invaluable skills and knowledge along the way.


Funding and Support for SANCCOB

SANCCOB relies on a combination of funding sources and support from various entities to sustain its critical work in rescuing, rehabilitating, and conserving penguins and seabirds. As a nonprofit organization, SANCCOB relies heavily on donations, grants, and sponsorships to continue their impactful initiatives.


Individual donors play a crucial role in supporting SANCCOB’s operations. Contributions from passionate individuals who care about marine conservation enable SANCCOB to provide the necessary care for injured and abandoned birds, conduct research, and educate the public. Donations of any size make a difference and contribute to the ongoing success of SANCCOB’s efforts.


In addition to individual donors, SANCCOB actively seeks partnerships with corporate sponsors. These collaborations provide vital financial support and resources to further the organization’s mission. Corporate sponsors often play a key role in funding specific projects or providing in-kind donations such as equipment, supplies, or expertise. The support of corporate partners allows SANCCOB to expand its reach, improve its facilities, and enhance its capacity to rescue and rehabilitate greater numbers of birds.


Grants from foundations, government agencies, and conservation organizations also play a crucial role in funding SANCCOB’s programs. These grants provide essential financial support for research projects, staff salaries, facility maintenance, and the development of educational initiatives. By securing grants, SANCCOB can continue to make a significant impact in the conservation of penguins and seabirds, contributing to their long-term survival.


SANCCOB also offers various sponsorship programs that provide individuals and organizations with the opportunity to directly support specific birds or projects. By sponsoring a bird, individuals can make a meaningful and personal contribution to its care and rehabilitation. This kind of sponsorship not only provides financial support but also creates a unique connection and sense of fulfillment for the sponsor.


Volunteers and interns also provide valuable support to SANCCOB, contributing their time, skills, and energy to assist in the day-to-day operations of the organization. By volunteering or interning at SANCCOB, individuals play an active role in alleviating the workload of the dedicated staff, enabling the organization to focus its resources on providing the best possible care for the birds.


By combining these various funding sources and forms of support, SANCCOB can continue to rescue, rehabilitate, and conserve penguins and seabirds along the South African coastline. The generosity and dedication of individuals, corporate sponsors, grant providers, and volunteers are instrumental in ensuring the long-term success and sustainability of SANCCOB’s critical work.



SANCCOB, the Penguin & Seabird Rescue Center in South Africa, has been a beacon of hope for penguins and seabirds for over five decades. Through their unwavering dedication and expertise, SANCCOB has made a significant impact in the conservation of these species, ensuring a brighter future for the magnificent birds that call the South African coastlines home.


From their humble beginnings in a small garage in Cape Town, SANCCOB has grown into a renowned organization with two well-equipped facilities along the coast. Their team of passionate professionals, volunteers, and interns work tirelessly to rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured, abandoned, and oiled birds. Their impact goes beyond individual bird rescues, as they actively engage in research, conservation, and community outreach programs, paving the way for a more sustainable future.


The success stories of SANCCOB are a testament to their commitment and the power of collaboration. Their efforts have contributed to the recovery of African Penguin populations, the rehabilitation and release of various seabird species, and the implementation of effective conservation strategies. Through valuable research initiatives, SANCCOB provides insight into the biology and behavior of these birds, informing management strategies and influencing policies on a national and international level.


None of SANCCOB’s achievements would be possible without the generous support of individual donors, corporate sponsors, grant providers, and dedicated volunteers. Their funding and assistance enable SANCCOB to continue their vital mission, ensuring the well-being and survival of penguins and seabirds for generations to come.


In conclusion, SANCCOB stands as a shining example of what can be achieved when compassion, knowledge, and collective effort come together. They provide a safe haven for injured and distressed birds, offer hope to species on the brink of extinction, and inspire individuals to take action in protecting our oceans and marine life.


So, if you have ever marveled at the sight of a penguin waddling along the shore or witnessed the grace of a seabird in flight, consider supporting SANCCOB. Whether through volunteering, donating, or spreading awareness, your involvement can make a difference and contribute to the conservation of these extraordinary creatures and the fragile ecosystems they depend on.