Rescuers on Tuesday were airlifting jackass penguins from Dassen Island off the South African coast, in a frantic bid to save thousands of birds from an environmental disaster.
They began to die of starvation on Monday – their parents having been evacuated to save them from an oil spill.

Conservationists manning the evacuation say it is hard to leave the chicks and eggs abandoned knowing they will die – but saving the adults is the only way to ensure the preservation of the species.

Tuesday’s rescue effort focused on juvenile birds.

The goal was to save enough penguins for breeding and to ensure the safety of the colony.

More than 3-thousand of the penguins were released into the ocean 560 miles (890 kilometres) up the coast on Monday to begin the long swim home.

The penguins are expected to reach home in about eleven days.

Authorities hope there will be enough time to clean up the spill from the tanker, which sank near Cape Town last week.

Dozens of dead chicks lay in their burrows Monday on Dassen Island.

Seagulls attacked unattended chicks after their parents were evacuated.

After examining the chicks the scientist were pleased about the good health they were in.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“We are happy to report that a lot of the chicks are very close to fledging. This is extremely good news because in the last three weeks before chicks go to sea they build up body fat resources because they don’t immediately secure food when they go to sea. This ties them over for a couple of weeks. So these chicks are in good condition.”
SUPER CAPTION: David Daitz, Chief Executive of Western Cape Nature Conservation

They rescuers claim they evacuated another three and half thousand adult birds and about 15-thousand juvenile birds but they are not sure.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“We don’t even really have an idea of how many chicks there are. I would think the maximum number of chicks will be in the order of 15 thousand.”
SUPER CAPTION: Dr Tony Williams, Penguin expert from Western Cape Nature Conservation

Dassen Island’s population of African penguins is more than 55-thousand.

It is the world’s largest colony of the endangered bird.

African penguins are only found off the coast of southern Africa.

Last Wednesday, the oil slick from the tanker Treasure, which sank on June 23 off the coast of Cape Town, reached Dassen Island.

The penguins were fenced in on Friday to stop them from going into the polluted sea to fish.

But the fences had to be removed to avoid starving the birds.

Left with no other choice, workers began evacuating the birds on Sunday.

SOUNDBITE: (English)
“The chick evacuation here is a very good idea because it’s ensuring that those birds that are nearly ready to go will go and will released in a very clean area. The one thing you don’t want of these birds to leave here – of the next generation – to leave here and go straight into some polluted waters. This will keep them clean.”
SUPER CAPTION: Chris Harbard, English Royal Society of the Protection Birds

The penguins will be taken to various centres in Cape Town where they’ll be hand feed and later released.

The penguins may not like their temporary home, but when they are returned to Dassen Island they will be able to swim and fish in the sea in safety.

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