If you’re needing some exercise and want to try and help bring awareness to the plight of the African Penguin, then the “Waddle” may be just the thing for you (next year)! This last week, 16 animal keepers from zoos and aquariums around South Africa walked a distance of 120km between Gansbaai and Simonstown. All 3 South African penguin colonies were visited along their route: Dyer Island colony in Gansbaai, Stony Point colony in Betty’s Bay and Boulders Beach colony in Simonstown. What started as a pet project for a few keepers in 2011 has grown into quite an event and the media and public have been very supportive. Penguin Promises is a campaign which was ‘hatched’ in 2011 when the AKAA (Animal Keepers Association of Africa) decided to choose an endangered species and create an awareness drive in support of it. The African penguin was chosen as their numbers are currently as low as 60,000 birds in the wild compared to a very healthy population about 100 years ago of approximately 1.5 million. Scientists claim that this species could go extinct within the next 15-25 years, should environmental conditions not improve for them. This bird is endemic to southern Africa and considered an iconic animal as well as an indicator species (indicating the state of our oceans). As the waddlers walk, they are joined by members of the public, school children and other keepers all dressed in black and white to show their support for the penguins. Bright yellow “Hoot for penguins” signs are carried by any willing volunteers to encourage passing traffic to join in. Last year, they counted 682 cars hooting for the waddlers just during the 11km stretch through Strand! This year they aimed to log the number of acknowledgements in every coastal zone in the hopes of creating a little bit of a friendly competitiveness between zones which in turn will draw more awareness to why they are doing what they are doing! Participation by everyone will hopefully bring home the message better than just a poster campaign. Instead of asking for money, the waddlers respond with: “We don’t want your money honey we want your love”. Penguin Promises proposes that, to show that you care, instead of giving money, you make a conscious choice to change an aspect of your behavior that will have a positive effect on the environment. A few examples of penguin promises are – recycling/reusing/reducing, saving water and electricity, planting an organic vegetable garden, using eco-friendly cleaners, refusing drinking straws and the single use plastic shopping bag. It has been shown that many people making a small lifestyle change can make an enormous difference! So if you’re in the area in 2014, why not waddle on down and join these crazy keepers on a leg of their six day walking tour and make a difference. IN the mean time, why not make a promise?! More information is available on www.penguinpromises.com
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