The NSRI’s Durban duty crew was called on recently to help uShaka Sea World release a rare juvenile Indian yellow-nosed albatross.
“You don’t see this breed very often as it’s predominantly sighted on the East Coast. So it was very cool to be able to get involved,” says coxswain Paul Bevis, who is a keen birdwatcher.
According to uShaka Sea World's resident veterinarian Dr Francois Lampen, the Indian yellow-nosed albatross has been classified as an endangered species by the The International Union for Conservation of Nature.
“This is due to population declines in the last seventy years, which have been caused by interactions with longline fisheries as well as the outbreak of introduced diseases, such as avian cholera,” he says.
The albatross was initially spotted by a marine pilot on the deck of a cargo ship in the Durban Harbour, who contacted uShaka Sea World about the stricken bird.
“I was able to drive to the ship and found the bird sitting next to it,” Francois recalls. “It was reasonably strong but did not fly away.”
Time is of the essence in these situations, Francois explains, as being on the ground for too long causes a condition known as bumblefoot in birds. “This causes pressure sores on their feet and chest that are very challenging to treat, so it’s best to release the bird as quickly as possible if it is healthy and strong enough,” he says. “Another important concern is their plumage – if this gets damaged, the bird loses its waterproofing. This is nearly impossible to correct. So, it is imperative that we avoid any damage to their feathers.”
As soon as the albatross was given a clean bill of health, the NSRI and a team from uShaka Sea World headed out to sea with the albatross secured in a box onboard the rescue craft Spirit of Surfski VI. After being released, the bird gave itself a lengthy bath before flying off.
“The NSRI has assisted us with a couple of releases in the past, and has always been tremendously helpful,” Francois says. “It is really important to release these marine birds as far from shore as possible, so it’s a great relief to have an organisation like the NSRI assisting us.”
While the expertise of the uShaka Sea World and NSRI teams played a pivotal role in the success of the operation, Paul says that the pilot who spotted the albatross in the harbour should also be given credit. “The marine pilot was very proactive in contacting uShaka Sea World. Many people may not have taken the time to do that,” he says.
If you spot a distressed bird on the ground, Francois warns that you shouldn’t try to rescue it until you have contacted a local conservation officer. “Please remember, these birds, despite being injured or sick, are not used to humans and will defend themselves against any perceived threats. They can be dangerous, and in addition to this, if they are not handled correctly it is possible that you will make their injuries worse.”
For more information on marine strandings in KwaZulu-Natal, contact uShaka Sea World on (031) 328 8222. Alternatively, visit: What to do
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