BirdLife South Africa is working to create new colonies of penguins of quiet beaches in Cape Town by using decoy penguin sculptures.
Cape Town, South Africa – BirdLife South Africa is working to create safe breeding spaces for African penguins in the Western Cape by placing decoys on beaches.
According to BirdLife SA, using decoys to attract birds and other animals, have been used for many years by hunters to lure prey into range. Conservationists have started using decoys to attract seabirds to suitable breeding areas. These specific decoys will be one of the tools used to re-establish a penguin colony at De Hoop Nature Reserve.
Most seabirds breed in colonies and will only do so if they feel safe. They won’t breed without the presence of other birds. These decoys fool birds into thinking that other individuals are already breeding there. This method has been successful in other parts of the world which is why it is being implemented in South Africa.
‘One of the most successful projects was implemented following decreases in Common and Arctic tern numbers in Maine. Wooden decoys and call playback speakers were placed at Eastern Egg Rock in 1978. Within a year, tern sightings in the area had doubled, and within four years, Eastern Egg Rock hosted the largest Common Tern colony in Maine. There are also several successful projects involving albatrosses. In combination with translocation of chicks, decoys have been used to encourage both Short-tailed and Laysan albatrosses to breed at more suitable sites.’
BirdLife SA is hopeful that this method, along with other safety measures will prove to be successful for the recolonisation of the De Hoop Nature Reserve.
“We have learned from these projects in our attempt to re-establish a previously short-lived colony of African Penguins at De Hoop Nature Reserve. We will construct a predator-proof fence to protect the penguins from mainland predators and initially use social attraction techniques- decoys and call playback- to attract the penguins to the site. We are working with CapeNature and as soon as a management plan for the colony has been completed, work on the ground can start properly.” – Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation at BirdLife South Africa
African penguin numbers have been on a decrease over the last 60 years and the West Coast of South Africa have suffered the most. They have seen an over 60% decrease in the last 20 years due to decreases in the availability of their preferred prey, which is sardines and anchovies.
The organisation recruited artist Roelf Daling to create the clay model which was then used as a mould for more decoys.
“I studied live penguins and photos to create a 3D computer model of a penguin. The 3D model is then “sliced” into layers and built out of cardboard, which I cover in clay”, says Roelf.
“I use the clay model to make a polyurethane mould, which can be used up to 400 times. I then apply layers of cement which has been reinforced with glass fibres to the mould”.
Once the cement has cured, Roelf paints them with an acid etch, which stains the white cement black, ensuring that the colour won’t fade or chip, like paint.
He set out to produce 20 decoys in total, which will be scattered around the site.
“We look forward to seeing them out at De Hoop, showing their live counterparts where it is safe to breed! “
While there is no guarantee for success, Christina feels hopeful about the outcome because of the areas penguin history.
“Re-establishing the colony will likely take several years, with unfortunately no guarantee of success,” says Christina Hagen.
“But because this site was used previously by penguins and we know from tracking studies and observations by CapeNature patrols, that penguins forage in the waters around De Hoop, we think there is every chance of success.”
The organisation has pinpointed a second site in Plettenberg Bay where they will hopefully launch a second decoy project soon. Stay tuned as we will have updates regarding this project to follow. Take a look at the decoys below.