SANCCOB's Current and Future Interventions to help the Bank Cormorant

Posted on the 12th January 2015

SANCCOB's Current and Future Interventions to help the Bank Cormorant.
(This report initially appeared in the January 2015 edition of “THE KITE” (No 106), the newsletter of the Tygerberg Bird Club. - Ed.)
Dr. van der Spuy set up the veterinary clinic at SANCCOB, was previously involved in conservation projects and currently co-ordinates seabird conservation for SANCCOB. He outlined the work being undertaken by SANCCOB for the rehabilitation and conservation of Cormorants with particular emphasis for the purposes of this presentation on the Bank Cormorant.
Cormorant Conservation - IUCN Status:
- Cape Cormorant: Endangered. South African population has decreased by 84% over 40 years. In 1978, there were 103,937 breeding pairs; in 2011, only 37,408. Reasons for decline: guano mining in the past, food shortage, avian cholera, disturbance, habitat loss, oil pollution.Habitat: inshore marine habitats, estuaries and lagoons.
- Bank Cormorant: Endangered. Location: Cape Agulhas to central Namibia. South African population has decreased by 44% since 1980 to just 846 breeding pairs in 2011-2014. Reasons for decline: decrease in and altered distribution of their main prey species (Rock Lobster), human disturbance, oiling, displacement from breeding habitat, predation and extreme weather events. Habitat: coast near kelp beds.
- Crozet Shag: Critically endangered. Location: Prince Edward and Crozet islands. There were 1,200 pairs in 2003 and an estimated decrease of 60% is forecast in the period
1994/5 to 2012/13.
- Crowned Cormorant: Near-threatened due to small population - in 2002, 8,700 individuals. Vulnerable to disturbance and marine pollution. Habitat: open coast and offshore islands.
Cormorant Rehabilitation at SANCCOB.
- 2001-2013: Cape: 1,397. Bank: 59; Crowned: 122, Whitebreasted: 129, Reed: 29.
Two common problems are seen when Cormorants are admitted to SANCCOB:
a) Collapsed, very thin, severely dehydrated, very low blood protein. Causes: diarrhoea, various systemic illnesses, fungal and bacterial infections, air sacculitis, worms, starvation. Government has a big role to play in further research.
b) Various fractures, generally good body condition but severely traumatised.
(3) Goals for Conservation of the Bank Cormorant.
· Establish a captive conservation assurance population.
· Improve the rehabilitation rate.
· Build breeding platforms in the wild.
Bank Cormorants breed close to water's edge and breeding sites are washed away in storms.
· Disease surveillance in the wild.
· Develop techniques to release captive bred Bank
Cormorants into the wild.
A multi-pronged approach is needed. Breeding platforms are one tool to maintain a breeding population in the wild. Another is the collection of eggs to establish a captive population for release into the wild. In the past, Bank Cormorant eggs were collected and sent overseas - in 2004, to Living Coasts in the United Kingdom and again in 2009 for the start of a conservation assurance population. Now SANCCOB has its own Chick Rearing Unit with egg incubator and hatcher and is applying for permits to collect 12 Bank Cormorant eggs in 2015. Cape Cormorant chicks are currently being hand-reared at SANCCOB.
By Dr. Stephen van der Spuy


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