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Carol Walton - The seabird lady

Carol is the founder of the Seabird and Penguin Rehabilitation Centre in Mossel Bay. She has an indescribable love for penguins and focuses her energy on conservation. She moved to the Garden Route in the early 2000s, bringing her passion for nature with her. We spoke to Carol when she and her team of volunteers released four treated penguins back into the Indian ocean.

“I’ve been working with African penguins and seabirds since the 1990s. When I got here, somehow word got out that this bird lady was here. So everybody started bringing them to me. I started in my garage, but in the end, it just wasn’t suitable so we started SAPREC. We’ve helped thousands of birds since. Penguins, over 600 of them. And being such an endangered species, that’s actually quite a big percentage of the population.

“I studied conservation. I wanted to become a game ranger, they said they could put me in a shop, I said I’m not studying for four years to work in a shop. Then I went to Joburg Zoo. Later, I became a volunteer at SANCOBB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) in the 90s. Then they wanted me to run it. The woman who started SANCOBB, Althea Westbol, started in her garage in the 60s and she was my mentor. She taught me everything. I left them when I left Cape Town. My husband moved me here.

“I have two minds about the release. I feel fantastic and yet I feel a bit sad, because it’s a big ocean. They’ve got so many problems, with overfishing, with plastic. So it feels good that we let them go in the best possible condition that we could. But it’s a big ocean.

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"At the moment I have a baby penguin in an incubator. I was late for the release this morning because I had to wait until 9.30 to feed her."

“We’ve been releasing at Fransmanhoek for 15 years. This is a north-facing beach, so it’s always calm. And it’s actually a reserve. So it’s quiet and there are rangers that patrol. So if a penguin actually by chance comes back here, they’ll let us know.”

“It’s tough to say where my love of penguins comes from… I just love them. They’re actually an indicator of the health of the ocean. If they’re in trouble, the ocean’s in trouble. I think conservation people choose specific endangered species and I chose African penguins to try and save.

“Before Shimunye, I went into the centre every day. I employed her just over a year ago in December. Before that, I was there every day – and I’m not getting any younger. Shimunye actually volunteered for me and then when she finished her degree, I employed her. She does all the labour that I’ve always done for 50 years. She studied conservation. I’m mentoring her so she can take over.

“At the moment I have a baby penguin in an incubator. I was late for the release this morning because I had to wait until 9.30 to feed her. I’ll be in my wheelchair one day and I’ll still be doing it – helping penguins in need.”

You can donate to SAPREC here.

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