The Ajubatus Foundation was founded early in 2002 and was known, in the early days, as ‘The Ajubatus Marine and Wildlife Rescue Foundation’ (Strandnet). The concept evolved from a growing public concern over the significant number of “stranding” Penguins (The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the Jackass Penguin), Cape Fur Seals and Southern Arican Turtles (there are 22 species of Southern African Turtle and Tortoises). Penguins were a particular concern of ours, because due to overfishing, penguins were susceptible to:
- Swim further to feed, which increases the risk of death for infants
- Unable to build enough body fat for when they go onto land to moult, causing them to have insufficient body mass to complete the malting process and either die on land, or return to the ocean to face hypothermia
- Will feed on things such as Squid, however they cannot digest the cartilage and this accumulates in the stomach until they are unable to feed at all and die
- Are at risk of oil spills near major habitats, such as the Port of Ngqura that lies off of Port Elizabeth and is within 100m of the protected St. Croix Island. Ships will anchor offshore and often flush their tanks, disposing toxins and oil into the ocean.
In the beginning, the Ajubatus Foundation served as a professional stranding response unit and taxi service to the State-owned facility ‘Bayworld’ in Port Elizabeth. The handling of Penguins and Cape Fur Seals required skill and the use of specialised equipment. For example, we used a reinforced conical tube-like structure with opening straps, whereby the broad opening was presented to the Seal and pulled over its head. Seals have a voracious bite and are extremely nimble, thus the tube-like structure was the only correct way to capture them on the beach. Once the large opening is over the animal’s head, the animal will automatically dart forward towards the narrow end, secure the strapping with only its nose protruding, and the animal can then be safely transported. On the other hand, as for penguins, the use of custom nets and containers allowed for them to be transported to a Rehabilitation facility.
However, Ajubatus soon realised that ‘Bayworld’ was unable to handle the increasing number of strandings, and their archaic protocols often caused more harm than good. After extensive negotiation with the South African Lighthouse and Ports Authority, Ajubatus was able to take over the Seal Point Lighthouse in Cape St. Francis and develop a state-of-the-art facility. To facilitate the mounting costs of the operation (estimated costs were €175.00 per Penguin in rehab), the Foundation established a Historic Lighthouse Tours Programme, Coffee Shop and Restaurant. These initiatives increased the community’s involvement, such as using the local community to make hand-made curios and produce home-styled cakes for clients. Thus through our collective efforts, the Ajubatus Lighthouse Facility was extremely successful, became the focal point of the community, and welcomed over 50,000 visitors per annum.
By this time, Ajubatus had also signed an MOU with South African National Parks (SANParks) and the Kruger National Park to specifically assist with funding, resources, and scientific skills application in key research projects based in the Kruger National Park. As a result, the state-of-the-art Lighthouse facility was handed over to government officials and the community to continue its legacy.