Be Your Own Birder

The Great Penguin Rescue

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  • Author: Dyan deNapoli
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication Date: 2010
  • Pages: 307

Be Your Own Birder’s Thoughts

It was one of the most successful breeding seasons for African penguins, but in just a few hours the season was devastated when the MV Treasure sank off the coast of South Africa, threatening Robben Island and Dassen Island, both critical breeding areas for the birds. In that one incident that spilled 1,400 gallons of oil and fuel, half the world’s population of African penguins was put in danger, and it would take a monumental effort to save them.

Dyan deNapoli was part of that effort, temporarily leaving her work at the New England Aquarium to join the fight to save the wild penguins. The Great Penguin Rescue is her account of those hectic weeks when thousands of oiled penguins needed rigorous care, and she shares her experiences with passion and intimacy. From the agonizing decisions of chick triage to the penguin washing process to all the facets of the birds’ care that needed attending to, deNapoli leaves out no part of the rescue efforts, even when those efforts may have seemed in vain. “Although I tried to remain optimistic, I secretly harbored some doubts about our ability to handle the monstrous challenge that lay ahead,” she recalled.

The author was not alone in her doubts, but neither was she alone in her dedication to the birds and their successful rehabilitation. Over the three month rescue, 110 penguin professionals from facilities in 14 countries would contribute, and more than 12,500 volunteers donated their time and care to the birds. Those volunteers are some of deNapoli’s best recollections of the chaos that would eventually save 90 percent of the birds. She thanks them profusely not only in the book but in her continuing work to promote penguin conservation.

While the book’s focus is the incredible effort of the world’s largest animal rescue operation, deNapoli provides a comprehensive account of the history, evolution, and physiology of African penguins, as well as a bleak projection of the birds’ possible future if overall conservation efforts do not improve. To that end, she provides detailed appendices of organizations readers can support to promote conservation as well as other ways even one reader can help to make a difference for penguin survival. Dyan deNapoli has also committed herself to further conservation efforts by donating 20 percent of the book’s royalties to the organizations she has recommended. In her words, “the love of more than 12,000 people saved those 38,500 penguins, and my hope is that the love of even more people will help ensure a future for all penguins. … While mankind has historically been their biggest threat, we are also now their only hope.”

Anyone who has ever seen the charm of a single penguin won’t be able to resist this book and its heartfelt details. From the initial creative prologue of the oil spill from a single bird’s perspective through the hard emotional and physical challenges of the rescue efforts to the triumph of the rehabilitated birds’ release, deNapoli gives every reader an insight into the experiences of the penguins, the rehabilitators, and the volunteers, each of which has a critical role in these birds’ future survival.

Worth Reading? Absolutely! – 10/10!

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