Waddle with the Wind
I have been in South Africa for 54 days now and today has been the most rewarding day, by far. I got to partake in something that most people will never experience and it made me smile for hours.
I have been volunteering at SAMREC, a marine bird rehabilitation center consisting mostly of penguins. Their goal is to rehabilitate, research and reintroduce the birds back into the wild while educating the public on the endangered species, the South African Penguin.
For the past six weeks, we have done a lot of cleaning and were eventually able to feed the birds! Some days are more exciting than others; we have even been here for the arrival of two Gannets, one Cormorant and have been here days after the arrival of many penguins. Today, all of the long days stuffing dead fish with vitamins, mopping up cages and wrestling with penguins were put into perspective…
Some penguins come into SAMREC exhausted, dehydrated, malnourished and usually molting. All they need is some TLC to finish the molting process. Others are badly injured and will most likely live there rest of their lives. SAMREC does a wonderful job of giving the life-er penguins a nice and comfortable home, but it is sad to think that these wild creatures could not survive on their own.
When you get to release NINE penguins and see them return home it is an indescribable feeling. The whole day was a whirlwind. The event was publicized, and because today was a national holiday – Human Rights Day – there were at least one hundred people here to watch. All of the volunteers stood up front each with a specific task: We cut off three feathers for data, snipped the plastic identification tag and educated the audience with some information about each specific bird. Then we loaded them up and met the crowd down by the beach, where we scoped out the perfect place to set up the caution tape and create a human barricade into the water.
The next five minutes flew by. We carried the crates down, lined them up and prepared the release. In my crate were Kevin and Misty, two of the more spunky penguins. I specifically took a liking too Kevin. As aggressive as he was, you could calm him down by rubbing his neck and speaking softly. It always amazed me how they all had their own personalities. On a count of three, we all carefully lifted the top and tilted the crates so they could waddle out on their own. They waddled and stopped and than waddled some more until they were fully in the water. The volunteers followed behind but leaving enough space to not distract them and to help with crowd control, until they were swimming back home.
I stood there in awe, it was bittersweet to see these nine beautiful birds finally be able to go home. Seconds later, high fives and hugs were exchanged between all of us, we all have grown a connection to the birds and as much as we will miss them, we were so happy to know that they were able to go home and confident that they will survive in the wild. We stood there for a few more minutes admiring our work before we loaded the empty crates back to SAMREC.
When I decided to study abroad, I had no idea that I would be able to experience and be apart of something like this. I had no idea I would sign up to volunteer, and I am so grateful I did! My hard work with these animals sure paid off!
Taylor Farro is the Spring 2016 CEA MOJO in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She is currently a junior at Stockton University in New Jersey.