Oil Spill

Jakkalsfontein staff and home owners were actively involved in assisting Cape Nature Conservation and Marine and Coastal Management with part of the biggest ever operation to save those birds unaffected by the oil, and to rescue the oiled ones.

Dassen Island normally has a population of some 60,000 African Penguins. These birds live and breed on the island, and routinely travel up and down the West Cape Coast searching for food. Even before the slick reached the island a large number of them had been affected by the leaking oil.

Penguin covered in oil

Jakkalsfontein staff were actively involved in assisting Cape Nature Conservation and Marine and Coastal Management with part of the biggest ever operation to save those birds unaffected by the oil, and to rescue the oiled ones.

Catching the Penguins

The initial phase of the operation was to run continuous patrols along the beach from Yzerfontein southwards collecting oil soaked birds for delivery to SANCCOB in Milnerton. While this phase is ongoing, Cape Nature Conservation decided that the best way to save the Dassen Island penguins was to catch them before they became affected and translocate them. This involved heightening the old ring wall with plastic fencing, so that the birds could be herded into it and caught.

Danie and Alison, with some of Jakkalsfontein labourers worked long hours every day, both on the beaches and on Dassen Island. Franklin, Tyran, Witness, Innocent, Hannes and Floors had their hands full with on and off- loading boats, the helicopter, trucks and bakkies, taping boxes, catching penguins and helping with the hard hand-labour of digging out the old ring wall which stretches for ± 10km round the island, so that the penguins could gain access to their breeding grounds, but not return to the sea.

For some of the labourers the experience of going in a boat was a something new.

We have received only praise (and lots of it) for the hard work that they have been doing. These men have really done Jakkalsfontein proud.

At one stage 5 boats were running between Yzerfontein Harbour and Dassen Island carrying penguins, fencing, rations for workers, volunteers and media personnel.. A Sikorski helicopter from Court Helicopters was also chartered to fly clean penguins from the island to the harbour,. There the boxes were taped closed and loaded onto a truck which headed straight for Port Elizabeth - a 15 hour drive - where the penguins were released to swim back to Dassen Island (they have a powerful homing instinct).

What has been amazing is the support and help that this operation has received. The Yzerfontein community continuously supplied the volunteers with food and cool drink

Cleaning the oil off

(or What you always wanted to know about dealing with a disaster, and never liked to ask)

On June 26th an intrepid trio from Jakkalsfontein signed on as volunteers at SANCCOB, intending simply to wash penguins. However, they soon found they were involved in a very different kettle of fish (pilchards, actually). After a couple of days spent doing various necessary chores, Alison was spirited off to help Danie with evacuating Dassen Island. Carrots saw the chaos in the parking lot, and got on with the job. She soon went from traffic cop to receiving ‘officer’ i.e. receiving, sorting and distributing everything from oily penguins by the truckful to toothbrushes and towels, and paper and pizzas.


Colette’s organisational skills and experience were put to excellent use in the major task of assisting Mariette Hopley (ex Air force major) in the conversion of a huge, old, dirty Spoornet warehouse (the size of King’s Cross Station) without facilities, into a clean, warm environment for 20,000 penguins, and with decent facilities for the 900 – odd - volunteers that pass through the doors on a daily basis. It was a logistical nightmare, as everything had to be done very quickly if penguins were not to die of hypothermia and disease. First it had to be cleaned, the railway tracks and holes filled in and then the floors covered with tarpaulins, cardboard and PVC. Electrical cables were laid, 600 portapools and pens were set up, a 24 hour supply of hot water to the washing rooms was effected by a complicated system of industrial geysers and back –ups, and the drying rooms and ICU were fitted with infra-red lights to keep the birds warm. Without fail, between 500 and 800 birds had to be washed daily, or the further rehabilitation programme would be compromised.

Penguins waiting to be cleaned

Large deep pools had to be constructed for the oiled birds indoors, this was a priority as the birds housed in pens get covered in excreta and suffer feather rot unless they are swum every other day, swimming also helps to relieve stress. The water gets very dirty and has to be changed after every swim. In addition overflowing pools and simulated beaches were constructed outside from stones and shale (about 800 tons trucked in) to give the cleaned birds a walk on a natural surface and a swim whenever they pleased. Last but not least a huge pool 24m X 14m was constructed to swim the birds for waterproofing and testing before release. The disposal of these huge amounts of water necessitated the close co-operation of Cape Town’s Waste Water Department as the water table in that area is very high.

Penguins after they have been cleaned

This is but a small part of the over-all complexity of the operation – there are also matters like food for volunteers, fish for the birds, stores management, transport, health and safety, security, setting up offices, soliciting donations and etc. It meant long hours of attention to the finest detail, to ensure that the haphazard “Penguin Hell” of the first few days soon became the highly organized “Penguin Palace.”

Carrots moved in to co-ordinate section 2, which had approximately 2,500 birds to be fed, in 60 pens to be cleaned, and new volunteers to be taught how to do both. They learned how to free feed first (birds who voluntarily open their beaks for the pilchard held for them are called free feeders) and later how to catch and force-feed. Carrots, typically, enjoys the hands on and was often to be seen in a pen with a bucket of fish, and covered in hungry penguins. She has plenty of bruises and a few stitches to show for it (“it wasn’t the bird’s fault”)

The planning and rapid creation of the Salt River Station has facilitated the contribution of the American team from the International Fund for Animal Welfare who specialize in oiled wildlife so that they were able to start work immediately. Everyone felt that working with them, and the many other skilled individuals who came from zoos and aquaria all over the world to help, was a very special experience. The Jakkalsfonteiners have done their bit and are a credit to us all.

Thanks a million!

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A short history of Dassen Island

Good mirages are rare in these latitudes, especially with our cool climate. But at Jakkalsfontein there is, as we know, often more than meets the eye.

Jakkalsfontein staff and home owners were actively involved in assisting Cape Nature Conservation and Marine and Coastal Management with part of the biggest ever operation to save those birds unaffected by the oil, and to rescue the oiled ones.


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