Port Elizabeth, South Africa
Recently, I spent my block leave in Port Elizabeth volunteering at the Penguin Conservation Program. Before i started my assignment, I learnt that there was a recent admission of about 20 wildlife penguins adults and chicks that were found stranded at a nearby beach- all covered in oil, sad casualties of the oil spills which have becoming alarmingly common in the region.
Oil is a major contributing factor to African penguins becoming endangered. Once a penguin’s feathers are covered in oil, it loses much of its ability to insulate itself. Many penguins die from hypothermia as a result of this. The ingestion of oil also kills the penguins either directly or via the feeding on contaminated fish.
I was told that I have to be prepared for a very hectic week. As I soon found out, they really weren’t kidding.
A volunteer day starts at 7:30am at the centre. As rescued penguins are extremely frail, a lot of work needs to be done to ensure the place is clean and sterile. That means a lot of scrubbing, mopping, wiping, and disinfecting of the floors and walls; washing, drying, and folding of penguin pooped towels and preparation of the medication and food to hand-feed the adults and chicks to health.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that there is no idle time except for a 10min tea and lunch break. As exhausting the tasks are, (and did I mention penguins bite!) it is extremely rewarding to see the penguins putting on weight and getting ready to be rehabilitated back to the sea.
The project coordinators at the Penguin Conservation Program took great care of me throughout the entire trip. It truly felt like home away from home. They made sure that I had a local experience and with them, I visited safaris, game reserves, learnt surfing, and attended a music festival.
Volunteer tourism is a rewarding way to contribute to a sustainable environment and enjoying a total immersion of local culture. All in all, it was a truly unique experience!