It is only natural to expect some sort of animal encounter when one visits the vast continent that is Africa. And even though I prefer to travel without too many expectations these days, I would be telling a fib if I were to claim that I was not at all excited about seeing the animals that inhabit this region.
Images of cheetahs, elephants and giraffes, of lions and antelopes and zebras, of leopards and hippopotamuses, flashed before me during the 15 hour flight from New York City to Johannesburg a few days ago. And of course, I also thought of…penguins. Penguins?
Maybe I am telling a slight fib after all. The idea of observing some African penguins was admittedly not an idea that I spent much time dwelling on before the trip. At first, when I noticed that penguin spotting was on the itinerary, I believe I thought to myself, ‘Penguins in Africa? Sounds nice.’ And then I returned to thinking about lions and giraffes.
WILD AFRICAN PENGUINS
On the second day of my stay in South Africa, our small group of bloggers left our hotel and headed east with our guide Shaheed, traveling along the brilliantly stunning coastline that stretches out towards the Cape of Good Hope. Our main destination was Boulder’s Beach, an area that is home to dozens of African penguins living in the wild.
And little did I know that this one experience would completely alter my view of these adorable black and white seabirds. Less than 2.8 seconds after we pulled into the small beachfront car park, spending time with penguins no longer sounded just ‘nice’. Instead, observing African penguins actually waddle around, sit on their eggs, bellow out their donkey sounds (umm, penguin sounds I guess) and cuddle with each other on the beach and in the bushes, was infinitely more fascinating to me than I ever would have imagined.
We spent a good hour or so walking along the coastline, because, it turns out that watching penguins in the wild does not get old at all. You might think that once you’ve seen one penguin pop out of the ocean, waddle up a small sand dune and then playfully peck his wife’s buttocks a few times, you don’t need to see any more.
But again, I wanted to see more. ‘Keep pecking!’ I would shout. Actually, I did not shout anything, but that’s what I was thinking as it all seemed surreal to be so close to these birds.
I really became a penguin addict.
In fact, I became so addicted to penguins that I went ahead and adopted one.
MY PENGUIN ADOPTION TALE
The day after our visit to Boulder’s Beach, our group began the morning with a visit to a place called SANCCOB, or the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. This centre is THE place for injured or displaced seabirds to be taken, not only in Capetown, but in all of Africa and even the Southern Hemisphere.
The work they do here, whether it be nursing sick penguins back to health in order to release them back into the wild, responding to oil spills and coordinating the efforts to save the affected wildlife or caring for seabirds that are simply too frail or injured to survive on their own, is more than impressive.
You can’t help but respect not only the organization, but the passionate staff and team of international volunteers who keep this centre operating year round. And that is why, after being given a thorough tour of the premises, which included some time hanging out with their resident rockhopper penguin (which is not native to Africa and which somehow popped up on the South African coast one day), I had only one thing on my mind.
So, let me now introduce you to my penguin. His name is Elephant, and yes, I named him myself.
Unfortunately, however, adopting a penguin is not quite the same as adopting a child. With penguins, you do not get to take them home with you, which is probably a good thing considering that I don’t have an actual ‘home’. I’m sure many people try, probably by attempting to place their penguin in their jacket pocket and sneaking out the back door, but it really is not recommended, nor wise.
As adorable as your adopted penguin may be, trust me when I say that your penguin is much better off in the capable hands of the SANCCOB staff than at your home in New York City or Berlin or Melbourne or wherever it is you may live. Once your penguin is brought back to full health at the rehabilitation centre, it will then be released back into the wild, where it truly belongs.
I know what you’re thinking. ‘The penguins in the Jim Carrey film Mr. Popper’s Penguins looked happy to be living in a big city apartment,’ but remember, that’s just the movies and in real life, penguins do not like to hang out inside of your freezer or in the toilet bowl and they aren’t as fond of visits to the park as one might think. (And don’t worry, I only watched that movie on a flight due to boredom.)
Anyway, even though I couldn’t take Elephant home with me, I can’t stop looking at his photo and thinking about him as I continue to travel around the rest of South Africa. And at this point, it really is difficult to believe that I began this trip barely excited about hanging out with some penguins and now I’ve gone ahead and introduced one into my family.
That’s South Africa for you. An endless stream of surprises….
If you want to adopt a penguin, which you can do for yourself or as a gift, you can do so from the SANCCOB website. And if, or WHEN, you visit Capetown, this is one destination that should be on your list. You can take a tour, learn a great deal about penguins and you can also volunteer at the rehabilitation centre if you want to get even more involved!
So, who’s adopting a penguin??