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On Thursday, 16 April, a group of footsore, placard-waving demonstrators were spotted making their way along Clarence Drive in the direction of the municipal office complex. The most legible of the posters read: “HOOT FOR THE PENGUINS!” and most passing drivers did just that and then continued on their way. A people-carrier was waiting for the intrepid walkers at the Caltex Service Station. I stopped to chat to them as they were massaging their blistered feet and was made aware of the valid cause that prompted their efforts.

 

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One passing motorist did a U-turn and drove back to the rest place. With a puzzled
expression he squinted at the placards. “Whew!” he said. “I thought they wanted us
to go SHOOT the penguins.”

The walkers had just completed the Kleinmond to Betty’s Bay leg of an annual weeklong WADDLE from Gansbaai to Boulders Beach. The walk thus incorporates the three most important Western Cape habitats of the endangered African penguin.

Dyer Island, off Gansbaai, is home to the biggest colony and a state-of-the-art bird rehabilitation centre was opened in the town in March. I learnt some worrying facts about our local penguins. A hundred years ago there were more than a million in existence. Today there are only 18 000 breeding pairs left to sustain the whole population.

These cute iconic birds face extinction in the wild as their numbers continue to decline dramatically. Loss of food because of overfishing, climate change and habitat destruction are just some of the factors taking their toll. Another significant contributor is the pollution that has contaminated the sea. In fact the prognosis is so dire that it is predicted that, unless there’s a significant intervention, the African penguin will be extinct in 15 to 20 years.

An unusual feature of this Waddle for a Week initiative is that it is not seeking donations from the public. Instead, it wants PROMISES, promises from us that we will do our bit to ensure the continued survival of the penguins.

Here are some of their suggestions:
  • RETHINK USING THE PLASTIC SHOPPING BAG. They often end up being eaten by animals, whether at sea or on land.
  • TAP IN TO THE RIGHT WATER SOURCE. Bottled water comes in plastic bottles that end up polluting the environment.
  • BIN YOUR BUTTS AND KICK THE FLICK HABIT. Cigarette butts are toxic and take 30 years to decompose. They are poisonous to animals and fish.
  • BUST YOUR NEED FOR BALLOONS AND STRAWS. They are unnecessary and will harm the environment and be a danger to foraging animals and fish.
  • CUT A LOOP AND SAVE A LIFE. Trash that is left in long strands poses a huge threat to both land and sea animals. [Fishing line and plastic rope spring to mind.] Make sure that all looped trash is cut up before disposal.

IF YOU MAKE THESE PROMISES, IT WON’T ONLY BE THE PENGUINS WHO WILL THANK YOU.