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Sunday July 02, 2000

South Africa Evacuates Oil-Hit Penguins Off the Cape

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa ( Reuters ) - Conservationists scrambling to save oil-soaked penguins off South Africa's Atlantic coast began evacuating the entire colony of Dassen Island Sunday, in one of the world's biggest evacuations of wild birds.

A spokeswoman for the South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) said up to 56,000 birds would be taken off the island, 30 miles north of Cape Town.
Christina Pretorius told Reuters there were between 15,000 and 20,000 oil-free penguins on the island and these birds would be airlifted to Algoa Bay near Port Elizabeth, where they would be released into unaffected waters.
Algoa Bay is about 500 miles from Cape Town.
The evacuation comes a week after the bulk carrier Treasure, carrying 1,400 tons of oil, sank off Cape Town, spilling tons of its fuel.
Rescuers hope that once the birds have been thrown into the seas around Port Elizabeth, they will then swim back to their Cape nests, leaving time for the oil to have been dispersed and the water cleaned up.
``The evacuation is concentrating first on the clean birds which have perched themselves at the center of the island,'' Pretorius said.``We'll then later pick up the dirty birds for cleaning at one of our rescue centers,'' she added.

Fourteen Days For Penguins To Swim Back

She said rescuers estimated it would take the penguins up to 14 days to swim back to the Cape.
But if favorable conditions took them faster, they could well end up back in the oil smudge if it had not cleared by the time they arrive back.
The evacuation of Dassen Island is being carried out using a chartered helicopter and rubber boats.
Environmental Affairs and Tourism Minister Valli Moosa flew to Dassen Island Sunday to witness the operation.
``I would like to assure myself that we're doing everything that possibly can be done to save what is genuinely one of the biggest colonies of Jackass penguins to be found anywhere in the world,'' he told reporters.
Zane Erasmus, a spokesman for the Cape Nature Conservation Board did not know how long the evacuation would last, but said it could only be done in daylight hours.
``We don't know how long the whole thing is going to take as we have never done anything like it before,'' he told Reuters, adding that only 2,000 birds had been lifted off Dassen Island by noon Sunday.