African penguin population numbers have dropped 60% in the last 30 years and they are now considered Endangered. Georgia Aquarium aids in their fight for survival through breeding programs and partnership with organizations in their native South Africa.
In 2009, Georgia Aquarium began a partnership with the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), a hands-on rehabilitation center in South Africa, to help with the first ever health assessment of penguin populations found naturally on South African islands. At the end of 2010, SANCCOB was confronted with a record number of penguin chicks – 483 – that were abandoned and in need of intense therapy so Georgia Aquarium responded by sending veterinary staff to provide emergency assistance. They had over an 80% success rate for the release of orphaned chicks.
Aquarium and SANCCOB veterinarians continue their research into what diseases and environmental conditions cause issues within penguin populations in the hopes of establishing the best rescue and rehabilitation responses. Georgia Aquarium veterinarians are also using data collected from blood samples of natural penguin populations along with samples from penguins at various zoological facilities to create a reference database for comparison.
Many of the penguins on exhibit at Georgia Aquarium are part of a Species Survival Plan (SSP) coordinated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). These plans promote genetic diversity within populations of endangered species residing in zoological institutions by selective and strategic breeding.