Dumpling and Digit – a penguin affair

  • August 23, 2013 | Ann Kunz

African penguin pair, Digit and Dumpling found love at uShaka Sea World

Endangered African penguins Dumpling and Digit are spending their last weekend at uShaka Sea World ahead of a flight home to the cold waters of the Cape on 27 August 2013.

Dumpling is a male, approximately three years old, and was known to staff at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCOB) in the Cape as Kiki when he spent a few months at the centre after becoming stranded just over two years ago. 

After getting into trouble and ending up on the beach he was was taken to the centre, rehabilitated and tagged before being released near Port Elizabeth. It was two years before his second stranding, this time on a beach along the lower South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal. This time he was brought to uShaka Sea World for rehabilitation.

Digit, a female of about the same age, was rescued by fishermen at sea off Richards Bay as she battled to remain buoyant. Digit was so weak when she arrived for rehabilitation that she could barely stand and staff feared that she might not survive. However the plucky little penguin surprised everyone by surviving the first few critical days and nights. According to her carers she began to display a vicious appetite matched only by her temper.

Both Digit and Dumpling were brought to uShaka Sea World’s animal rescue centre within days of each other and since they required similar medical treatment, were housed together in the hospital. 

Initially Digit was unhappy about having to share her space with Dumpling and attacked him at whim. However, as the days went past and she realised what a handsome a fella he was, her heart softened she allowed him closer and closer.

When the penguin pair leaves uShaka Sea World on Tuesday, they would both have spent just over a month at the centre, each eating an average of 10 fish per day, going for strolls, a few swims and making the most of the nurturing environment in order to rest and recover their strength. 

The quality of care has been so beneficial that the two penguins have formed a strong bond. "It's evident to all the staff that Dumpling is hopelessly in love with Digit. When she is occasionally separated from him for treatment he can be heard calling and calling for her until she returns," say mammal and bird care staff. Digit apparently does not return the vocal affection. 

Dumpling weighed about 1.2kg on arrival and now weighs 3.2kg. Digit weighed 1.7kg and now weighs 2.9kg.

uShaka Sea World's resident veterinarian, Caryl Knox has given both birds a clean bill of health after analysing their latest blood and swab results.

Together they will spend a short period at SANCOBB before being released as a pair. African penguins usually mate for life.

"We have no doubt that by this time next year there will be a couple of little Digitumlings screaming for their parents' attention," quipped one of the carers.

Pledge your support for these endangered endemic birds by making a Penguin Promise today.

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