Penguin adoption – Promises

Dear Penguin Promises

The chicks have been growing quickly and they are now almost as big as Promises.
They now leave the nest each day to explore the area around the nest in preparation for leaving the colony. I attach a photo of the chicks so that you can see just how big they have grown in such a short time..

Childhood is very short for a penguin. The chicks leave the nest to begin life on their own after just two months from hatching. During those two short months they increase their weight 30 times, from about 100 grams at birth to about 3000 grams when they leave. They change from tiny balls of fluff into full-sized penguins in just 8 weeks, when food is in good supply, which it is here.

At the moment whenever the weather is nice, the chicks leave the nest to do their flipper exercises. They flap their flippers up and down as fast as they can as though they expect to fly, but these exercises play a very important role in building good strong flipper muscles which the chicks will need when they leave the colony to begin life as a juvenile. Once out at sea they will have to swim long distances and need to be ready for the journey.

The chicks have fluffy chick feathers when they are small. These fluffy feathers are wonderful for keeping the chicks nice and warm when the feathers are dry, but the fluffy feathers are no use at all when they get wet. They soak up water like a sponge and make swimming impossible. So the chicks are now shedding their fluffy chick feathers and replacing them with sleek, shiny feathers that are waterproof.

The new juvenile feathers do not soak up the water. They are coated with wax which the penguins produce in a gland near to the tail. They spread this wax over the feathers during grooming. Penguins spend a lot of time grooming themselves and each other. Keeping the feathers waxed is one of the reasons for grooming, and the other reason is to remove ticks and fleas.

The new feathers will keep the chicks warm and dry even when swimming. The waxy feathers interlock together using microscopic hooks, providing a waterproof barrier that works in a similar way to the black wet-suits which people use for diving and surfing. The new feathers are like the feathers of Promises, but without the black lines of the adults which only appear when the penguins reach 5 years of age..

Once these new feathers have finished growing the chicks will be ready to leave the colony and go out to sea on their own. Penguins are born to swim and are always happiest out in the open ocean. The excitement when the chicks first enter the water is a joy to see. They splash around, leap in and out of the water, and float around on their backs splashing water over themselves to bathe.

At the moment it is a difficult job for Promises to catch enough food to feed the ever hungry chicks. Their rapid growth means that the chicks can eat more than Promises can catch. The adults both set off as soon as the sun rises at about 5 o’clock in the morning, and spend all day out at sea catching fish for the chicks. The chicks cannot go into the water yet, until the new feathers are ready, so they must stay at home and wait for supper.
The chicks don’t get breakfast or lunch, just supper.

The adults don’t get home until late afternoon or early evening, and even after supper the chicks still complain that they are hungry. The chicks in our colony are well fed and food supply is not a problem here, which is why the chicks here grow so quickly. In colonies where food is in short supply, such as in the Falkland Islands, chick growth can take as long as 16 weeks, twice what it is here.

The chicks here eat a quarter of their own body weight every single day. The adults work 12 to 15 hours a day catching enough food for the chicks. They get no weekends and no days off to relax. Before they started rearing the chicks the adults weighed about 6 kg and now they weigh less than 5 kg. They have lost more almost 20% of their body weight because of working so hard to feed the chicks.
It is just as well that they only have to do it for two months, otherwise poor Promises would disappear altogether.

Despite their frenetic flipper exercises, the chicks lack the strength and stamina to be fast enough to catch large fish when they leave, so during the first few months at sea they fish amongst the kelp beds feeding on small fish, shrimps and other crustaceans.

Gradually as they spend more time at sea, and build up the flipper muscles, they will become faster and will be able to leave the kelp beds and catch slightly larger fish, but it takes four years for the youngsters to fully develop the strength and stamina that they need to begin raising families of their own. Experienced adults loose 20% of their body weight rearing the chicks, which is why younger juveniles would not have the strength and endurance to raise chicks successfully.

Many people ask if they can adopt the chicks, but unfortunately we are unable to offer the chicks for adoption. I wish we could. The problem is that when the chicks leave the colony, most will not return to the colony until they are 5 years old and ready to raise chicks of their own. That means that people adopting chicks would not get any news or photos of their penguin for 5 years.

Once the chicks have left, Promises will take a long rest out at sea just catching fish and relaxing, so that they can recover the weight that they have lost over the last few weeks. This feeding and recovery is very important because about a month after the chicks have left the adults must return to the colony in order to change all their feathers, which means a period of about three weeks stranded ashore with no food. It is important for Promises and the adults to recover their lost weight before beginning a long period without food.

I will write to you again when the chicks have left the colony and the adults are returning fat and healthy to begin their annual moult (molt)..

Best wishes, Mike

Welcome to the Ethical Living Challenge!

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News from South America

Dear PenguinPromises

The weather in the colony has turned really cold, and it has been no fun at all for Promises standing in the freezing cold wind for weeks with half the feathers missing. But now the moult (molt) has finally come to an end and the penguins look really smart in their new shiny black and white plumage.

The end of the moult means that Promises can now set off on the winter migration, which is without doubt one of the best times of year for the penguins. Penguins love being in the water, and they only come ashore when they have to. Because they are birds, penguins are forced to carry out certain parts of their life-cycle on land, such as egg-laying and chick-rearing, but when not forced to come ashore, penguins remain at sea 24/7. No other bird is so well adapted to life at sea, and no other bird can remain at sea for such long periods of time as penguins.

A few days ago Promises left the colony to begin the winter migration. A few penguins still remain here in the colony, but they will also leave during the next few days and the colony will then remain deserted until late September. Having left the colony, the penguins gradually make their way up the coast of Patagonia without ever coming ashore at all. They remain in the sea throughout the day and the night, and even sleep floating in the water.

Penguins lay their eggs and raise their chicks in the extreme south during the summer months, because this far south the days are very long for catching fish, with almost 20 hours of daylight per day during December and January. Now that winter is approaching it gets very cold, with snow, and the days are very short and gloomy. These are not good conditions for raising chicks, so instead the penguins migrate northwards and wait until the weather gets better again before returning to the nest to lay more eggs.

You may wonder why the penguins don’t just remain further north to lay their eggs, instead of travelling all the way back home. The reason is that nearer to the South Pole (and the North Pole too) the days are much longer during the summer than anywhere else on Earth. The equator has hotter weather, but much less difference in daylight between winter and summer, and hence shorter days in summer. The long daylight in summer has two advantages for Promises.

Firstly, as already mentioned, the long hours of daylight allows the penguins to spend up to 20 hours a day catching fish for the chicks. Further from the poles the days are not so long during the summer, so the chicks would receive less food each day if they lived further north.

Secondly, close to the South Pole the virtually constant daylight causes a bloom of microscopic aquatic plants. These microscopic plants only need sunshine to grow and multiply rapidly, and the longer the daylight, the faster they grow. This bloom of microscopic plants in turn causes an explosion of krill and other ocean creatures that feed on the abundant algae. Fish gather in huge quantities to catch the krill and aquatic creatures, and penguins, whales and dolphins move south to take advantage of the large fish and krill populations that gather.
This is called a Food Chain. The extremely long hours of daylight in summer causes a chain reaction that begins with the rapid growth of microscopic plants, and ends with the migration of whales from as far away as Hawaii and Alaska.

Penguins are just some of the animals that migrate long distances to take advantage of this abundance of food during the southern summer. Sand Pipers and other small shore-birds migrate from the northern hemisphere to the southern hemisphere in order to enjoy two summers every year. Whales and dolphins also migrate long distances in order to spend the summer around the South Pole. Compared to whales and Sand Pipers, the penguins’ migration is quiet short.

Ocean currents run up the coast of Patagonia, so that helps Promises travel northwards more quickly. Of course, that same current means that the penguins will have to swim harder when coming back home later in the year. They usually spend the winter off the coast of Brazil, but they have no particular destination in mind.

Because they never come out of the ocean, one part of the coast is much the same as another to the penguins. They only ever see Brazil from a distance. The only penguins that come ashore in Brazil are a handful of penguins that get sick or injured, or which suffer from oil contamination. There are several rehabilitation centres in Brazil that rescue such penguins when they are found on the beaches by concerned sun-bathers. This is virtually the only time that people living in Brazil ever get to see the penguins. The penguins usually remain too far offshore to be seen from the coast.

Penguins are very social animals and they remain together in groups. Penguins like the company of other penguins, but they do not remain with their partner during the winter migration. This is not because of any deliberate desire to separate during the winter. It is just that out at sea it is almost impossible to maintain contact with individual penguins.

On land it is easy to see a long distance, but out in the open ocean a penguin can only see a short distance. The Atlantic Ocean is not like a swimming pool. It has too many tiny particles suspended in the water to see more than 30 or 40 metres at the very most. The distance at which one penguin could identify another penguin underwater amongst all the other penguins is very short indeed.

On the water surface the distance that penguins can see is even shorter, as you can see from the attached photo. Penguins are very low in the water, so they can only see as far away as the next wave. Anything beyond that is hidden behind the waves. When they are momentarily lifted up by a passing wave penguins can get a better glimpse of their surroundings, but most of the time penguins cannot see very far at all in the open ocean.

When penguins catch fish they often have to chase them for quite some distance before they catch them. After such a chase it would be almost impossible to find an individual penguin that was left amongst all the other penguins, so pairs do not even try to remain together. It would be an impossible task.

Penguins keep together in groups during the winter migration, but these groups are made up of random individuals, because it is impossible for penguins to keep track of individual penguins out at sea. Whales and dolphins do remain together as families, but they are much larger and fewer in number, making it easier to identify individuals. Whales and dolphins also use sound to communicate over long distances. Penguins have never developed that ability, perhaps because their bodies are too small to produce such powerful underwater sound waves.

When the penguins return to the colony at the end of their winter migration, the males arrive a few days before the females and wait for their partner at the nest. Magellanic penguins are faithfully to their partner and to their nest. In the same way that we return home to reunite with our family at the end of the day, so too the penguins return to their home to reunite with their partner,
albeit after many weeks. This also enables us to locate and follow Promises year after year. We just call round when they are at home, just like we do with family and friends.

I will write to you again in a few weeks time, by which time the penguins will be somewhere off the coast of Brazil enjoying the sunshine. So whilst we await the return of Promises, I will take the opportunity to share with you the results of our penguin research the next time I write

Best wishes,  Mike

waddle 2016 reflections

Penguin Promises is an incredible energy. This year’s waddle was once again testament to this. A gathering of 16 people at the start of the week from all walks of life. Many had never met. Our first international Waddler, Leitza from Combe Martin Wildlife and Animal Park. Bertram our driver from De Kat Tours (who sponsored the support). Two staff members from Old Mutual Finance, Thabo and Cara (Who sponsored logistics and food). Johannesburg Zoo’s Elaine Reeve. Crowd from the Two Oceans Aquarium – volunteers Vernon and Ayrton, Social Media guru Ingrid, Campaign Manager Hayley – who also coordinated all logistics for the event – a monumental task, and Renee who looked after media. Then the South African Association for Marine Biological Research crowd – Gabby – behaviour manager for uShaka Sea World, Colette – Assistant Curator of Mammals and Birds, Presha – Informal Education Senior, Lesley – Herpetologist and Leandra – Dolphin care specialist. And last but certainly not least Louise from SANCCOB.


Tentatively at first and then gradually opening up to smile and laugh and share, this team grew closer and more effective by the minute. A really positive group of people who were committed to the idea – and practical in its application
The objective of the waddle – to raise awareness for our action campaign, and encourage promises. Mission accomplished.
It is beautiful to note how the locals along the route are more aware of our comings and goings now that year 6 is behind us. Supporting the objective and publishing it widely. Media was so supportive. We were featured on SABC every morning, thanks in part to the incredible videography editing of Renee. Social media was busy, and we all had the opportunity to share and share.
And of course the special moments of meeting up with like minded penguin and planet lovers along the way, and special mention of the incredible penguin moments.

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Being caught up in the passion of caring for the planet coupled with endorphins from the physical effort always result in tears flowing when we reach Stoney Point in Betty’s Bay and Boulders Beach in Simonstown. It becomes so real that these birds and our planet is in trouble, and when we finally see them for real our objective is fuelled by passion.
The most beautiful aspect of this week is that we consciously live and walk our talk. We all strive to share our personal promises and support each other to look at new potential promises.

A week of vegetarian and this week a fair amount of vegan eating. No bottled water. Talking to people and encouraging the same. The feeling is hippies with purpose. Focussing on what we can do. Making personal changes in our lives to ensure we walk our talk.
This week would not be possible without the support of sponsors and supporters, and for this enormous gratitude is in order. To walk in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Because our hearts have been stolen by the beauty and the penguins. To know at an essential level that all that is required to save our species and respect our planet is conscious living by the human race.
Another inspiring week. #waddle2016. #lovepenguins. #startwith1thing.
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Time to share the inspiration.

Conservation Action Campaign

penguins rock the world

there is nothing better than knowing that we at penguin promises are not alone in loving penguins. loving penguins WILL change the world for the better

Penguin Promises at Bester Birds

Let’s move it move it, Penguins going MAD at Bester Birds & Animals Zoo Park on the 18th April (Saturday folks). Making a Difference (MAD), join us as we waddle you do at the Zoo.

Activities include joining in on a hunt for the poacher as he runs around the zoo, to meeting the Madagascar characters. King Julian and his Penguin friends await you. Watch this space.

Crazy stuff happening at Bester Birds and Animals Zoo Park. Smile and Wave Boys and Lets Move it to Bester Birds & Animals Zoo Park.

Kids who wear any Penguin paraphernalia or better yet dress as Penguins get in for Free, mahala!

Theme : The Best Penguin Promises Fun
1. Cost : Normal entrance fee. Kids who come wearing Penguin suite/crazy hat, suite, feet etc get in for free (approved by Mike B). More than just a sticker or badge. Must have made a big effort to award free entry.
2. Times : 09h00 – 16h30
3. Date: 18th April 2015
4. Activities galore
AS AN ADDED ACTIVITY – Join Robynn, Maurice and Branden at NZG (National Zoological Gardens) at 06h00 to walk the Fun Run and promote collaboration. Return to Bester Birds and Animals Zoo Park for 09h00 start of above programme.

The Personal Reflections of the 2012 Waddle Team


Waddle 2012 – Daily progress

Day 1 – 16 April 2012 – The start 


Day 2 – 17 April 2012

Day 3 – 18 April 2012

Day 4 – 19 April 2012


Day 5 – 20 April 2012


Day 6 – 21 April 2012 – The END!!! 


Links of Interest