After several years in Cape Town, I have finally accepted that far-away friends and family will likely never visit. Alas, when you’re the last stop before Antarctica, the indelible bonds of love don’t stretch much farther than a postcard.
But that’s fine. I made a lot of new friends while hanging out with more than 200 penguins and seabirds at SANCCOB, the local seabird hospital and rehabilitation center. All the chickly cuteness and penguin snobbery observed during my six week stint is covered in the pages below.
Expect weird smells, regrettable life choices and lots of fish.
I used it as a prime opportunity to work on my “resting bitch face,” and forced myself to be extra perky, a veritable Mary Poppins of poop mats.
The little buggers have no immune systems, so that means meticulous cleaning regimes, hospital scrubs and strong disinfectants. So strong, it seems, that it’s even killed any semblance of a sensible name along with the bacteria.
Early in the morning, just before the volunteers and rehabbers begin to arrive, the African penguins stand outside their nesting box, point their beaks toward the heavens and sing a sweet serenade sounding something like this.
It doesn’t take many days in penguin / gull food prep to appreciate this multifaceted, mealtime workhorse of a fish. How do I cut thee? Let me count the ways…
So learning to force feed a penguin is kind of like learning to ride a rodeo bull, except it may also include projectile fish and your fingers getting chomped on.
African penguins aren’t the only patients in rehab.
Every once in a while, you come across a bird too smart for his own good, like Cape Cormorant 138.
It’s a strange feeling, holding a bird when it’s euthanized. The life in your hands doesn’t break with impactful finality like a cup or a vase would; it falls apart slowly and gracefully, as if it’s melting away.