Jamie Travitz's Blog

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Below is a list of all the birds I saw during my stay.  All but the rock pigeon and European Starling are life species.  All birds listed were seen in the wild, but some of the photos are of birds staying at SANCCOB. Once again, thank you for reading this every day for the last two weeks.  It has been an amazing opportunity for me, and I take away memories and friends that I will remember all my life.  I would also like to thank Cheryl Tracy and Tricia O’Neill for the opportunity to come to South Africa for this amazing trip.  The marketing department back at the National Aviary deserves a thank you as well for getting these posts online for us, as neither Chris nor I could have done it alone. 

I also want to thank Tamlyn Hardy for being such an amazing ambassador not just for SANCCOB but also South Africa. I also want to thank her education team members Alex and Michelle for holding down the fort while Tamlyn drove me around during these past two weeks.  Anway, on to the birds!  I’ll see everyone back at the National Aviary soon!  Good Birding!
Jamie’s Bird List:

1.    African Black Duck
2.    African Dusky Flycatcher
3.    African Penguin
4.    African Sacred Ibis
5.    Blacksmith Lapwing
6.    Black Oyster Catcher
7.    Cape Cormorant
8.    Cape Robin Chat
9.    Cape Sparrow
10.  Cape Turtle Dove
11.  Cape Wagtail
12.  Cape Weaver
13.  Common Fiscal
14.  Egyptian Goose
15.  European Starling
16.  Greater Flamingo
17.  Great White Pelican
18.  Grey Heron
19.  Grey-Winged Francolin
20.  Hartlaub’s Gull
21.  Hadeda Ibis
22.  Helmeted Guinea fowl
23.  Kelp Gull
24.  Little Egret
25.  Long-billed Pipit
26.  Olive Thrush
27.  Pearl-Breasted Swallow
28.  Pied Crow
29.  Red-Eyed Dove
30.  Red-Knobbed Coot
31.  Red-winged Starling
32.  Rock Pigeon
33.  Southern Red Bishop
34.  Speckled Pigeon
35.  Spotted Eagle Owl
36.  Spotted Thick Knee
37.  Swift Tern
38.  White Stork
39.  White-breasted Cormorant
40.  Yellow-Billed Kite


This trip would not be complete without mentioning our part-time third roommate here at Elements.

As far as I know she has no name, but all the guests here are familiar with her, and she’s practically a legend.  The story goes she just kind of showed up one day about a month ago, and after hanging around for a week or two, they took her in.  She spends most of her time visiting everyone’s room.  If your door is closed, she doesn’t mind.  She will let herself in and out through an open window!

For my last official SANCCOB Education team event, we attended another beach cleaning put on by Bank of America and Merrill Lynch.  We all met at a scenic beach lined with hotels.  Before working however, they asked Tamlyn to talk about penguins and the issues they face with the trash we would be picking up once it makes it into the oceans. First, she turned one of the kids into a penguin, much to the enjoyment of his peers.

Then the students all walked, preened, and brayed like a penguin.  The braying was both entertaining, and confusing for some passing dogs out for a walk with their owners.  Next, she showed how quickly an area of water can become when humans pollute it.  After each item (saw dust, paper, plastic) were put in the water, she asked the group who put it there, the answer of course being people.

After the talk, it was time to start cleaning the beach.  We headed down to a bulkhead about 10 minutes down the beach and worked our way back.  We did not make it far.  I bent down to pick up a small piece of netting I saw in the sand…. Unfortunately however, it was not very small.  After about 20 minutes of digging and pulling and struggling, we unfortunately had to cut it and bury the rest.  While we were digging, 2 more locations of netting were found.  We suspect it was probably one very large piece of net that was somehow buried right there on the beach.  After cleaning the beach as we walked back to the start point, we heard another talk about the dangers of the trash in the ocean.  The speaker told the students that each piece of trash they cleaned up may have very well saved an animal’s life.  He’s not wrong.

Since this is most likely my last blog post, I thought it would be cool to leave some other pictures here you haven’t seen yet, as they were some of my favorite moments.  This trip has been one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life, and I look forward to what I hope are more opportunities.

First up: solar panels at Two Oceans Aquariums. 

I can’t believe I forgot to mention these on the visit.  They put them in above their office are, and are able to power all their offices and then some with these panels.  They still need to use regular electricity however, for the filtration.  I also enjoyed learning about the important sea turtle rescue work.  Worth noting, all sea turtles are considered endangered now due to climate change, pollution, and poaching.

Next: One of a large number of protea flower species from Table Mountain.

These plants are famously full of nectar and attract a variety of insects and birds.  I have a number of flower photos that I took up there, but haven’t had time to look them up and ID them just yet.

When Chris and I joined the Avengers on an off day at the Waterfront.

This sculpture is actually made of recycled car parts, and is part of a world-wide installation. 
This swift tern photobombing a picture I was trying to take of Ebony the bank cormorant.

Finally, this photo from after the beach cleanup on November 9th.  Even though I didn’t speak the language, the students let me eat lunch with them at the restaurant, insisted I get my face painted, and then laughed and joked with me, especially after I accidentally stole the last sandwich….

Anyway, I hope you have all enjoyed reading this as much as I have sharing it with you. 


Today Tamlyn and I attended the plays I mentioned way back on November 2nd when we went to Kirstenbosch Gardens.  Over the last several weeks, Sally Hayes and her staff have been helping the students at the school to research and rehearse their plays.  The purpose of doing this program was to allow the students to explore careers in science, and if inspired, take the courses that will be necessary to set them up for success.  In South Africa, by the time these kids reach high school, they can pick and choose what classes to add or drop, much like American’s do once they reach college.  If the student wants a career in science, but dropped the core classes necessary, they unfortunately don’t get the opportunity for a do-over.  So by performing these plays, the students will hopefully be inspired to chase the career they presented, or a career another student has.

After a brief intro from Sally, the plays began.  First up where the microbiologists.

The play was about three students visiting microbiologists in the lab and asking questions about the field, including what classes they needed to study.  Other plays followed a similar plan, such as the zoologists, and paleontologists. 

The meteorologists were next, and got creative.

The followed the process of a cyclone approaching the African coast from when it was noticed on a screen all the way until it was presented on television to warn viewers at home.  

The next two groups would make any environmental educator proud, as both plays had significant mentions of issues for animals associated with littering!  Then came the entomologists who discovered a new species. 

In total there were about ten different plays, all of which had a scientific job.  While some of the plays were not 100 percent spot on, every single one of them captured the essence of each career.  Hopefully, some of these children were inspired to become future scientists not just for South Africa, but the environment as well.

After the plays, it was back to SANCCOB for the rest of the afternoon.  Tamlyn had Skype lessons to teach, and I spent the afternoon in Pen 10, which is up to roughly 130 abandoned chicks now! Since there were already several people assigned to the pen, including two Americans from Steinhart Aquarium, my main duty was penguin wrangling and running for formula and fish. 

Hard to believe that tomorrow is my last day working at SANCCOB!  After that, it’s a travel day, then back home to the Steel City.  It has been a truly wonderful trip so far, and Tamlyn has been an amazing ambassador for both SANCCOB and South Africa.  I have gotten to see many of the highlights of South Africa: the historic waterfront, Table Mountain, and of course my favorite so far: Boulders Beach.  Seeing five African penguins that Chris (especially) and I worked so hard to care for get released back into the wild is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  Additionally, seeing that many of this species all in one place is awe-inspiring. 

In closing tonight, the country is beautiful, and I wish there was more time to see it all.  Anyway, there should be one or two posts left after this one, and if you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks for reading!


Today was the moment we’ve been waiting for.  The culmination of all the hard work put in to help rescue the African penguin species, often done one bird at a time.   While Chris and much of the team got the birds together and ready to go, Tammy and I headed out early to stop at Save Our Seas, another non-profit environmental education facility that was on the way.  Inside the facility are a number of interactive exhibits, including a touch tank, textured surfaces similar to that of an African penguin, cape fur seal, and others.  Most awesomely however, I got to try out a VR shark experience where you get to be the shark and use all 5 senses to hunt your prey

After our visit, it was straight to Boulders Beach for the penguin release.  Here Tammy and I met with some of the park rangers.  Not only are these rangers in charge of the park, but they also have an important job to do for SANCCOB: watching the beach for injured penguins or abandoned babies.  If they find one, they call ahead to SANCCOB and drive it on over (about a 45 minute trip). They are also trained to give the birds their fluids and some other supportive care.  When we arrived the rangers told us they had two cormorants and one penguin who needed a ride back to SANCCOB with the team.

Shortly after, Chris and the rest of the SANCCOB volunteers attending the release arrived with one adult African penguin and four juveniles.  Boulders Beach is a prime tourist spot in South Africa because of the penguins.  In order to limit human interference with the nest, a raised wooden platform has been constructed over most of the colony. This also meant Chris and the other volunteers were greeted with the paparazzi treatment as they worked their way through the throngs of people to the beach, with the help of a ranger. 

To add an extra difficulty level to the release (and attempts to get photos), it was incredibly windy today, which meant sand was flying everywhere!  Once we reached the site, the volunteers and ranger hopped the fence and headed out onto the beach.  They then collected their penguin boxes and went roughly 20 yards away.  Then after a quick count, the boxes were turned on their sides, and 5 new residents of Boulders Beach stepped on the sand.

The adult penguin immediately headed over to join the other penguins.  The four juveniles however stayed very close together taking in their surroundings, as if not sure what to do next.

It kind of reminded me of four kids trying to figure out where to sit for lunch on the first day at a new school.  After taking a few photos, Chris and I headed up to see the other volunteers off.  After that, Tamlyn was kind enough to take us around to some other parts of the beach for a closer look.  Below are some of the better photos.


First off, I must say it is very interesting how big American politics are in other parts of the world.  When we left for work this morning, the election process was still happening, and by lunch time we knew who our next president will be.  Not because Chris or I looked it up online, but simply because others here in South Africa were so curious. 

Anyway, today it was incredibly windy, but Tamlyn and I went to the beach.  Not to surf, swim, or sunbathe, but to clean it up with 20 students from a school for students with special needs.

Again, this was part of a larger program SANCCOB was given funding for to reach out to this school.  Like before, the students received a visit to their school, an African Penguin Awareness Day fair, a visit to SANCCOB, and finally a beach clean-up.  Once on the beach, the students were divided up into teams, each given a bag and gloves.  It didn’t take long for the students, many of whom were visiting a beach for the first time, to start picking up trash.

Much of it was recyclable material.  Even more of it posed a potential threat to wild life: things like bottle caps, the plastic tie on a bottle just under the cap that can get caught around a bird’s neck, and even straws which can get stuck in a bird’s esophagus. SANCCOB once did surgery on a cormorant to remove a straw lodged in its esophagus. 

In addition to teaching these students a great lesson about being responsible in nature, it also gave them an opportunity to experience nature.  One of the braver groups worked their way down near the water with their teacher.  Shortly before packing up to head to lunch, you could hear the joyful screams of the children as they ran from the tide rolling in.

Next, we went to lunch at Moya’s with the students.  One of the attractions of this particular restaurant is they offer free traditional face painting.  All of the students and teachers, myself included, had a design done, then we enjoyed a nice spread of food that included sandwiches, chicken fingers, and French fries (chips down here).  After a great lunch it was time to say goodbye, but before we did, I learned that one of the teachers helping out at the school was an American from Chicago here studying for a semester.  And yes, he was very happy about his Cubs finally winning a World Series again!

After lunch we headed back to SANCCOB to greet another group known as the “Adventure Club”.  This was roughly 10 early learners, most of which were under 4 years old, and their moms.  First the group heard a story about Stubby the penguin, read by Tamlyn and Stubby herself!  Next was some nature play out on the vlei where we had hidden 3 birds for the students to find.  While many of the students did follow the exercise, being very excited when they found one of the birds, there was also a small group of the students who, with their mom,s chose to explore the plants and flowers that were nearby.  Finally, it was back into the hospital for a brief tour and a chance to watch the baby penguins in the Chick Rearing Unit, or CRU, get their afternoon meal.  Finally, we ended the day with two online lessons.  The first was a Skype class to a group back in the USA.  The second was a Google Hangout program known as “Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants.”  This program connects multiple classrooms from around the world to content providers who may be in rehab centers like SANCCOB, zoos, or even someone on a satellite connection working straight from the rain forest!

Finally, before leaving for the day, Chris and I had the honor of presenting a check from African Penguin Painting sales at the National Aviary to Dr. Stephen van der Spuy, the Executive Director of SANCCOB. This of course would not have been possible if not for our visitors purchasing the paintings, so thank you!

Tomorrow’s post should be a very interesting one, as Chris and I will be going on a release to see the payoff for all the hard rehab work this team has been putting in.


I added 2 new life species today on the same beach.  But more on that later.  Today, we took a tour of Robben Island.  In case you’re curious, Robben Island received its name from the Dutch word for seal.  When the Dutch arrived in the 1600s, the island was covered with seals, so naturally they named it “Seal Island”.  More famously, however Robben Island is known for being South African Prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 year prison sentence. 

The first thing that struck me after arriving via ferry, is the island is more than just a prison.  Unlike Alcatraz in the USA, there is actually a town on the island as well.  It also has a more complex history.  At first, the island was used by the Dutch to exile or imprison some of the African natives, however there were not buildings there.   After a short while, Cape Town had a bout with leprosy.  Those who were diagnosed with it were sent to Robben Island to live the rest of their days in an all-male or all female colony.  In fact, a gateway that stands on the island is still known as the Gateway of Tears.  Once people passed through it, they were never seen again, as they lived and died in the leper colonies.  One particular story we were told was about a married couple in their 70’s who arrived on the same day to Robben Island.  They were separated and lived in their own colonies without any knowledge of the other.  Five years later, they both died on the same day.  As a consolation, they were buried together in the same cemetery on the male side of the island.

For the tour of the prison, we were guided by a former political prisoner named Sparks.  During a very somber tour, he we walked the halls of the prison with him, stopping in his cell.  His particular cell was a very long room that he had to share with roughly 49 other prisoners.  When he arrived at the age of 17, they had no beds.  Just simply 2 mats on the floor, which you can see in the middle of the floor in the photo below.

Eventually, they did get beds, however, all 50 men still had to share 2 toilets and 3 showers, only being allowed to bathe on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday.  Segregation was also a major part of the imprisonment.  While other prisoners were given coats, pants, bread, and extra food rations, the black prisoners were only given shorts and short sleeve shirts.  This they wore all year round, even during cold rainy winters.  The windows to the cell are also open air which means they were exposed to the cold and sometimes hard rainfall during the nights, often times without so much as a blanket.  In addition, instead of bread, they were given something called “energy drink” which Sparks told us gave them no energy.  In fact, it was widely suspected by the prisoners that the drink was actually meant to sterilize them so they could not have children! 

After leaving Sparks’ cell, we walked over to the next block where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.  The cell in the photo below was his. 

You will notice three blankets folded up.  Rather than a mattress, pillow, and blanket, these men were only given 3 blankets.  One was used as a pillow, one as a sheet, the other as a blanket.  Take another look at the picture.  You will also notice there is no toilet in the cell.  Instead, these men were given buckets, which they then had to carry with them the following mornings to empty on their way to breakfast.  In this crucible, however, Mandela and others planned for the day they would be free.  In February of 1990, that day finally came.  Eventually, Mandela would help end Apartheid, which he spent so much of his life fighting, and be elected as president of South Africa.  Sparks still lives on the island, in the town.  As a matter of fact, most of guides for the prison tour are former prisoners there, and also live on the island.  In addition to these former prisoners, former prison workers also live on the island, in harmony with the men they once guarded. 

After the prison tour, we took a bus to see the rest of the island.  Stops included old barracks from when the island was used to defend the South African coast during World War II, an old British officer’s home, and a school.

The school is no longer in use because about 5 years ago they had 7 students and 2 teachers.  Deciding that money would be better spent on poorer schools on the mainland, they closed it and the students now commute by boat to Cape Town.  While initially the children were not happy to have to go so far to school, they soon realized that some days the weather is so bad the ferries can’t make the crossing, and they get the day off.  Rather than a “snow day” like in the US, they call it a “no boat day”.

The final stop on our tour was a cafeteria with an amazing view of Cape Town.  As we deboarded the bus, the guide warned us not to go past the roped off areas.  The reason he said was because the black oyster catcher lays its eggs among the rocks, and are well camouflaged.  That was the first of my two life species.

The other is a bird I have seen many, many times before.  However, as any birder will tell you, it doesn’t count until you see that animal in the wild.  It was a bird we have at the National Aviary, and the very bird Chris and I were sent here to help SANCCOB rehabilitate, the African penguin.

Since I am both a fan of history and a self-proclaimed “bird-nerd”, you can imagine today was a pretty full day! 


Chris and I both had the day off today, and decided to spend it exploring one of the New 7 Wonders of the world: Table Mountain.  Table Mountain is well known here.  The entire city and suburbs of Cape Town are spread out around it.  No matter where you are in the city, you can see the mountain.  As a result, most of the locals consider it their mountain.

On the way, we got a great look at Cape Town as we spent roughly 1.5 hours riding on a bus to the mountain.  If you ever go, buy your tickets ahead of time, because you can wait 2 or more hours just to buy tickets.  Unfortunately, because of the heat and lack of water with us, we chose not to hike up Table Mountain, which stands around 3,500 feet, and is free.  Instead, we cheated and took the cable car.  The cable car offers a wonderful view as you ride up, as it rotates 360 degrees to give everyone a view from all sides.   Once on top, there’s a number of excellent views of the city below.  In addition, there’s a model of the mountain, a café/restaurant, and Wi-Fi lounge. 

Chris and I then took advantage of the free tour.  Our first stop was 20 feet from where the tour began.  Behind Table Mountain are roughly 18 peaks known as the 12 Apostles. The story goes that in the 1600’s a ship wrecked off the coast.  All the crew and captain survived and made it to shore.  When he looked up he saw 12 of the 18 peaks staring down at him. Believing their survival to be a heavenly miracle, he named the chain the 12 apostles.  The guide also told us about the history of the mountains: 5 times older than the Himalayas and 6 times older than the Rockies.  He also pointed out that they did not run water pipes up from the city.  Instead, they carry water up in the cable car and deposit it into a reservoir under the mountain.  In fact, you can walk right over it.  Stomp on the metal grate, and hear it reverberate all the way down to the water.

Additionally, the mountain is home to an amazing number of flowers and animals.

One of the most prominent animals you will see is the hyrax, or dassie, as South Africans know them.

The closer you are to the shop and tourist center, the more of these animals you will see.  Obviously more than a few people are ignoring the “don’t feed the wildlife” rule.   Another reason for the prevalence of the dassie is the fact that there are only 2 breeding pairs of Verreaux’s eagles on the mountain, leading to a population surge of the dassie.  A fun fact about the dassie: despite it’s rodent like appearance, and collapsible rib cage, the closest living relative is actually the African elephant!  Quite a size difference in that family. 

Also during the tour, it was mentioned that the highest point on the mountain, Maclear’s Beacon, was only an hour’s hike away.  The Beacon is of some historical significance, because it was put there to help mark the curve of the earth.

Placed in 1865, the main goal was to re-measure the Arc of Meridian.  Because of magnetic interference, the original measurements had the earth being pear-shaped.  But because of the work of Sir Thomas Maclear, we now know it is round.  Naturally, Chris and I took the trip.  The walk spanned the entirety of the top of Table Mountain, and took us quite a while as we made quite a few stops. Again, the walk was filled with a number of beautiful views and a wide range of plants and animals including the southern rock agama lizard which is widely known for its vibrantly colored head.

Despite this, they are actually well camouflaged. 

The walk back was much faster, as we made fewer stops. However, it’s worth noting that if you are on the mountain until around 5:30 or 6:00 PM, you will have to wait in quite a long line to take the cable car back down off the mountain!  We didn’t reach the bottom until a little after 7:00 PM.


Got to SANCCOB a little early again in an effort to get a few excellent photos of Ebony the bank cormorant, who has perhaps become my favorite bird here.

The photo does not do Ebony justice. The chocolate colored feathers on her wings contrast with the black throughout the rest of her body. In addition, the feathers on her back are tipped in white, giving the impression she has crystals forming on her body. Add in her pale green eyes, and the bird is a sight to behold. It is worth noting that like Mr. Squawky-Face and Rocky, Ebony is also an imprinted bird at SANCCOB and like the African Penguins, critically endangered. In the last 30 years, the population of this bank cormorant has dropped by 70 percent, largely due to overfishing. In the wild there are only 500 mated pairs, which means the species is in trouble. Ebony’s role at SANCCOB is to be involved in a captive breeding program to bolster their numbers; however SANCCOB is still looking for a male to pair with her. In the meantime, Ebony works her way around the facility greeting everyone with a head bob and crackling call as they walk by, with occasional pool breaks.

After spending the first 10 minutes of the day (and 75 percent of my lunch) taking photos of Ebony, I spent the day in the nursery.

This meant a whole day with 1-2 week old baby penguins! It also meant an incredible amount of work, as I’m sure you’ve read on Chris’s blog. I was put with Cornae, an intern with SANCCOB for the last few months, and Abril who hales from Mexico City. Cornae and I worked primarily with the birds while Abril did most of the commissary work: making the darrows (electrolyte fluids) and formula, cleaning dishes and enclosures, and making sure the babies’ laundry was done. The first portion of the morning was making sure the babies got their morning fluids, and it took roughly 1 hour. Once we finished, we cleaned up the supplies and immediately set about getting ready for the next feeding, which would be fish and formula, which lucky for us, Abril had prepared for us.  During the second feeding, the babies needed two pills, then formula, then fish. Since I am not nearly as practiced as Cornae, she finished before me, and was able to take a few photos of me working with the penguins.

One thing to note here: since I was in the nursery, I did not wear the stylish green overalls most of the staff and volunteers wear.  This is because those overalls had been exposed to the other birds, and SANCCOB wants to protect the little ones until they are a little stronger. 

After lunch, it was more feeding and cleaning. Trust me, the day goes fast when you feed penguins, clean up after the feeding finishing up just in time to start the next feeding! 

Also here is a picture of a baby rock hopper penguin. He is at SANCCOB on loan from Two Oceans Aquarium who sent him here to be hatched and hand raised so he can be an ambassador bird for their education programs.


Hi everyone! Today Tamlyn and I went to the Cape Town Science Center to be judges for the First Lego League Challenge. Please note that first is the name of the sponsor, not that this is the first one. For the competition, students from a variety of schools from several provinces in South Africa had a Lego Robotics portion, where they had to complete several missions on a map laid out with logos using a robot of their design with attachments and programming. Tasks included getting food out of a fridge, turning a fence, and picking up and carrying animals to various parts of the map. I have included a picture of the map.

In addition to this, the students also had a project portion. Since the theme was “Animal Allies”, the students first had to pick an animal, identify a problem that animal was facing, then offer a solution to that problem.  They were given extra points for how well it was researched, presented, how much it would help the animal, and who they presented it to before today’s program. 

Tamlyn and I were assigned to the project portion of the competition as members of the animal community, and paired with two other judges. I was paired with a teacher from the Science Center named Muneerah, who taught me a lot about South Africa’s history and geography. While all of the teams we saw today had good ideas, I had two teams that were my favorite. The first group was called the Fiesty Fighters.

While most of the teams were high schoolers, this team was made up of 2 seventh graders, 1 sixth grader, and 1 fifth grader. The animal they chose was bees, and the problem they were discussing was the incredible rate at which bee populations are declining. They had noticed that some school mates and adults in their community would actually kill bees because they stung. Their solution to the problem was to someday open a school to teach people about bees and how to bee keep. In the meantime, they did their research by visiting beekeepers and learning about the insect, including what plants are best to plant for bees. When asked who they had presented their plan to before us, they surprised me by saying that they were already out in their community teaching their neighbors and classmates about bees! One other factor that sold me on this group: the entire presentation, which they did in English, was in their second language! All four of them grew up speaking Afrikaans.

The other group I liked was a group of high school kids called Team Eureka who wanted to help bats, which in this part of the world, can carry several diseases that negatively affect people, such as Ebola.

They also noted that the biggest reason why these bats carry human diseases is because they are exposed to the diseases when humans move into their habitat.  In order to help the bats, their plan called for constructing bat houses along bat migration routes.  These bat houses could then be accessed by scientists who could take guano samples and see the overall health of the bats, and also track human diseases. As possible roadblocks to their project, they mentioned native tribes who believe the bats to be evil or even demons. When asked how they planned to get around this, the answer was to do environmental education in the primary schools about the bats.  This way, as kids grow up they appreciate the bats for what they are and in many cases influence the opinions of their parents.

After a long day for the teams, who competed in both the robotics and project portion, the judges deliberated and it was time for awards. Team Eureka not only did well in the project portion (where they took the award for teamwork), they were also one of six teams to qualify for Nationals in December! And while the Feisty Fighters did not win any awards for their project nor in robotics, they did win (unanimously might I add) the judges award as rising stars!


Unfortunately we could not go to Robben Island today, but we have tickets reserved for Tuesday, so stay tuned.  Instead, we walked around Cape Town’s historic water front.  While there, we stopped into the Chavonnes Battery Museum.  What makes this particular museum unique is the fact that there is a bank sitting on top of it.  Opened by the Dutch East India Company, the battery defended a castle and what would eventually become Cape Town.  After it was decommissioned in 1860, and partially demolished so the stonework could be used to build new docks.  The rest was buried and built over and forgotten about….. until 1999. Then, it was bought to build a bank on and uncovered.  When you enter the museum you go down a flight of stairs and find yourself standing in history, as many of the original wall work is still there, including the fort’s well.

In addition, you will find models of what the fort and surrounding area looked like at the time.

After spending the afternoon at the museum, we then headed to SCUBA shop so Tamlyn could deliver a program to roughly 20 club members about the importance of what we put out into the environment.  While the program covered a variety of topics, including what SANCCOB does, the biggest take home for me was the emotional connection that was created through a story about a blue petrel that came to SANCCOB and died because of a bottle cap that got lodged in its stomach.  After the story, Tamlyn encouraged her listeners to recycle (most people don’t in South Africa) and to cut the little round ties found on plastic bottles just under the cap.  Most, if not all of the people in the room nodded affirmatively, and I even overheard several people saying to their partners that they should make the necessary arrangements to recycle very soon.  Even if only one of those people begins recycling tomorrow, Tamlyn was able to make a difference for the better by getting an emotional response with the group that attended the program tonight.

As an additional note, here’s a picture of a sleepy South African fur seal we saw today.


Today we got to SANCCOB a little early, and I had the opportunity to try and snap a few pictures of the birds that live there, particularly in what is known as “Home Pen” 

This is the area where all the unreleasable birds live.  In addition to the African Penguins, several other species live in this area as well, including swift terns,

cape cormorants,

a white breasted cormorant, the cape cormorants with amazingly blue eyes, and several kelp gulls. One kelp gull in particular, is named Mr. Squawky-Face. 

He was found at someone’s home in Cape Town as an imprinted bird who depends upon people for food.  Because of this he now lives at SANCCOB where he spends most of his day overseeing the workers and volunteers.  In addition, every once in a while, he will attempt to steal things from the staff.  My personal interaction with him has been limited to his attempt to steal my scrub brush as I scrubbed the outside of one of the enclosures.  He did not succeed….. this time. 

Another bird who lives in home pen is a rock hopper penguin named Rocky.

Rocky arrived in Cape Town several years ago.  Rock hoppers are found in the South Atlantic and several times have appeared in South Africa.  While swimming off course and ending up in Africa is not unheard of, often these penguins end up in Africa after being picked up by sailors who believe having a penguin on board their ship is good luck.  Once they get to land, they let the penguin go, even if they are 100s of miles from that penguin’s home.  Today was a special day however, because today I got to see this bird do what she does best, and that is teach.

One of the education projects SANCCOB participates in is teaching students who are critically ill or have other special needs.  Because parts of the country are very poor and the beliefs of some cultures, this demographic is very underserved.  In fact, many of the facilities find it difficult to accommodate such groups.  In this area, SANCCOB is a leader.  The education team meets with several banks and corporations who want to sponsor these programs.  Then they look for schools that meet the criteria.  Once they find a school, the talk to the teachers and staff and learn about the students.  Not just their developmental needs, but other important pieces of information such as: is the student epileptic?  Do they have any physical restrictions, such as being in a wheel chair?  Are loud noises a problem for this student?  Does the student have a fear of water?  They then catalog all of these and design a program with each group in mind.  The program for today’s group was the last in a series of 5.  There were 2 visits to the school from SANCCOB, a beach clean-up day, the school attended an event for African Penguin Awareness Day, and then today’s visit to SANCCOB.  The group was very happy to see us, in particular the two educators Alex and Michelle.  Both were greeted with hugs, high fives, and handshakes, not only from the students, but the teachers as well.

After a brief introduction, the students met an ambassador penguin named Steve heard a story about one of the other penguins at SANCCOB named Stubby.  After she hatched, in someone’s garden, Stubby was bitten by another animal.  This lead to an infection that prevented her from growing her wings out the whole way.  The story then goes on to say that even though Stubby isn’t a great swimmer because of her wings, she is still good at many other things instead, like helping teach people about penguins.  Students and teachers then went around the room and shared one thing we are all good at, too.  Mine was eating if anyone is curious.    The group then split up.  One group went out into the reserve around the hospital to bird watch and look for taxidermied birds we had hidden before their arrival.  This was a great experience because most of the students had never used binoculars before.  They were also given a field guide.  They then broke into teams and began to look for the birds.  Within about 20 minutes, they had found them all and many had started looking for the non-stuffed birds flying overhead.

The second group stayed in the classroom and met Rocky, who I mentioned above.  While the educator told the students about Rocky, she sat on a pedestal and posed so the children could draw her.  After all of this, both groups took a tour of the hospital.  Since the hospital was full of wild birds, it was very important for the tour groups to be quiet.  But since we were all walking like penguins (wings out, tiny steps, and no talking) the tour went very well.  Then it was time to go home.  Once again, there were hugs, high fives, and handshakes to go around.

After getting to watch Alex and Michelle teach this wonderful group, I had a brief lunch and then went and put on the oilies to help Chris and Sarah in Pen 10, where all the baby chicks who came in yesterday were living.  Thanks to training I received years ago at the National Aviary, and further training from the SANCCOB staff, I was able to help.  However, feeding them their fish was a little bit harder than I expected!  Luckily I was there with a great team who was willing to take the time to show me the best way to feed the young chicks.

Anyway, that’s all I have for today.  Tomorrow should be a wonderful experience as well as Chris and I will both be heading to Robben Island, which in addition to being a nature conservation area is a World Heritage Site as it is the location of the prison Nelson Mandella was held in for 18 years.

One last note in case anyone is curious.  I am up to 18 life species, the most recent being a spotted thick-knee seen on the walk home tonight. 


I start today’s blog post with a funny aside.  When I left for work at SANCCOB this morning I realized I wasn’t completely sure where my passport was, but figured I had it in a bag in the room, and decided to look for it when I got back to the hostel.  Well, long story short, after 2 hours of tearing apart my room and looking online for help, I found it… in my toiletries bag.  Apparently, when we arrived Sunday, I put it with my toothpaste and not with my other luggage.  Moral of the story:  Jet lag will mess with your head.

On to today!  First, Tamlyn and I went to Kirstenbosch Gardens, the largest botanical garden in South Africa.  There we met with the head of education, Sally Hayes.  Sally is the only full time education employee at the gardens.  In addition, they have to be prepared to teach classes in three different languages: English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.  On her staff she has 6 part time workers.  What is particularly interesting about Sally’s team are stories like the educator Veronica I followed today.  Victoria comes from a rough neighborhood in Cape Town.  Because of where she lives and grew up, a lot of opportunities that many others would take for granted, such as attending teaching college, were not available for her.  But, due to her love of the gardens, she has bloomed into one of the best educators Kirstennbosch has.  In addition to teaching learners of all age groups in three languages, Sally goes into these poorer communities and asks community leaders to point out people who may excel in a role like Veronica has.  She then recruits them and trains them, giving them the opportunity to have a job and teach.  Many of her past employees have since gone on to other jobs elsewhere in South Africa because of the training and confidence they received.

I then followed Veronica with her class from Limpopo, the northern most province in South Africa.  After a brief introduction, she led the group through the grounds of the botanic garden, stopping several times to teach them skills like how to read a map and plant adaptations.  She made this accessible to the students by passing out parts of plants, and asking the students to describe the plant.  Then, using the students own descriptions, told them what those adaptations meant for the plant.  Also during the tour, she pointed out points of interest to the students such as a spider’s nest, and a new life bird for me, a spotted eagle owl chick and adult!


I also learned that some of the students in Cape Town have been working on plays about several scientific jobs including wild life biologists, zoologists, zookeepers, and animal rehabbers.  I look forward to sharing the experience with you next Friday, when I get to go see their plays!

After completing the tour, we then headed down to Cape Town’s historic waterfront to visit the Two Oceans Aquarium.  Here we learned about the turtle rehabilitation project the aquarium has been involved in for the last 2 years.  Last year, the aquarium rescued 200 endangered loggerhead turtles.  Today, they had turtles in the tanks that started at around the size of my hand ranging all the way up to 240lbs!  All of which are due to be released tomorrow.  The project is a multiple organization effort as several aquariums in Africa work together to rescue these turtles. We then toured the facility and visited the aquariums African and rockhopper penguin colonies that included 2 penguins from SANCCOB who could not be released back into the wild.

After all of that, we then headed back to SANCCOB for a few Skype lessons with schools in the United States.  After which, I was able to jump in and help out in the nursery by cleaning out the nebulizer and cleaning the feeding tubes that will be needed to feed all the penguins, including the 80 some chicks Chris helped admit today.  Anyway, it has been a long eventful day. Tomorrow I am shadowing SANCCOBS education team as a school visits the facility!  The visit will include some bird watching on the reserve SANCCOB is built on.  Until then, Cheers!


Today I went back in time and revisited some skills I developed at the National Aviary when I worked as a veterinary technician in our vet hospital by working with one of the vets here at SANCCOB.  I started the morning in Pen 3 with Chris.  My job was to help pick up penguins and pass them to SANCCOB staff who did the morning weight and health check.  They then passed the penguins on to Chris and two other volunteers who then gave the birds their morning meds and fluids.  

After that, it was off to the vet hospital with the vet team to work on some of the flighted birds.  Waiting for us were three cormorants, two Hartlaub’s gulls, and two Kelp gulls.  Each of these birds received a recheck exam and blood test to check on old injuries and overall health. After the exam, all of the birds received their meds and oral fluids, which meant we had to open there mouths and gently slide a tube down the esophagus in order to put the meds right into the birds’ stomachs.  All of the birds showed signs of recovery, with two of them even being upgraded one step closer to being released!

After assembly lining through our flighted birds in the morning, it was time to do wound care on several of the ICU penguins.  All four birds had wounds on various parts of their body. They sustained them from from either predators such as seals and sharks or dogs and cats who find the birds on the beach.  A few cases are even puncture injuries from falls onto rocks.  Life as a penguin is tough, but luckily penguins are tough birds.  In order to treat the wounds, the bird’s had to be anesthetized.  Since there really aren’t anesthesia masks made specifically for birds, SANCCOB improvises.  Just like at the National Aviary, the vet team uses cut plastic water or soda pop bottles to fit over the birds head.  Once unconscious, a trach tube is placed and the wound management can begin.  Each bird had its wound cleaned and old dead tissue was removed.  They were then treated with antibiotic ointment topically, and if necessary, given stitches to close the wound.  All of this before lunch.

After lunch, I again rejoined the vet as she inspected several of the abandoned baby chicks in the nursery.  All of the birds here are baby penguins who were abandoned by adult penguins who have entered their catastrophic molt early.  Each bird again was rechecked and adjustments to medications were noted.  As I left the vet team to go do some general cleaning around the holding areas, they were gearing up to admit 20 new baby penguins, and 1 adult penguin with a broken foot.  The amount of time and effort that goes into rescuing these endangered species, by a team made up of staff and volunteers from around the world, is truly very remarkable.


Happy Halloween!  Today was my first day as the first ever American zoo educator to work with SANCCOB’s education team for a full two weeks.  After a brief tour of the facility, Tamlyn Hardy the Education Manager took me to Home Pen.  This is the area where a number of avian patients live alongside several avian residents, including the education ambassador birds.  We then sat down to make friends with the birds, and get them used to being around people.  This was very different for me coming from the National Aviary, where all of our penguins have been hand raised.  All of the birds here are wild birds.  That being said, I got to meet a charming young penguin named “Steve,”  who is a female.  Just like back home the only way for the workers to know the sex of the bird is to take blood or feathers and send it out for a DNA test.  In addition, I also got to meet “Ebony” an imprinted Bank Cormorant.  Like the African Penguin, this species is also critically endangered with less than 500 mated pairs left in the wild.  

After meeting the ambassador birds, Tamlyn and I then took a walk through the nearby nature reserve where we saw about 15 species of birds including greater flamingos, great white pelicans, and Egyptian Geese.

But it wasn’t all penguin hangout time and birding.  After a quick lunch, it was time to teach.  Using Skype, Tamlyn and Steve the penguin taught a class to students in the United States.  After class, it was time to leave SANCCOB for the day.