10 Years Sphenisco e.V. – Has the Work Been Worth It?

Hannover 10. July 2018.
For quite some time, a regular part of our plan for the year has been Sphenisco’s annual assembly on the last weekend in June.
How did it come to that? After returning from a trip to Antarctica and sensitized to penguins, we discovered a flyer from Sphenisco e.V. at the Penguin Museum in Cuxhaven. After we read through Sphenisco’s website, we requested admittance to the organization. Although we didn’t see any Humboldt Penguins in Antarctica, we figured this is about the entire species, is it not?
What drives us to drive to the Pfalz once a year, during the best summer weather, to sit at the school at the Landau Zoo and hear what was can be done for the Humboldt Penguin, so that they do not lose their habitat?
This year’s assembly was also a celebration of its first milestone birthday; Sphensico turned ten. One might say that is young. Yes, one could say that; however, it’s been 10 years of hard work. People have invested time from their lives, so that at the other end of the Earth, in Chile and Peru, a species dear to their hearts does not go extinct; ten years long constantly torn between hope, fear, joy, and setbacks. It was time to take stock, to look back, but of course forward as well. Since we had not been there from the beginning, the retrospective look, how everything began, was especially exciting for us.
Just like in a regular school, we sit on chairs in front of tables. The room is filled to the ceiling with positive energy. If it was visible, one could see it wafting all around. Collective interests have such a connecting, energetic effect, and perhaps it is for this reason that nobody ever thought of giving up.
The organization was founded because Horst George (Fundación Otway) ceased his penguin protection work. And then what? The main breeding colony of Humboldt Penguins was in danger, because three coal-fired power plants were planned to be built right there. So, Gabriele and Werner Knauf rolled up their sleeves and mobilized fellow comrades, and Sphenisco e.V. hatched from its egg. In the first years of the organization, Sphenisco set about making a name for itself. It’s not easy for a small organization from Germany to come around the corner and tell Chileans what the issue is. That obviously didn’t work. It was a tightrope walk between economic interests and the protection of nature. For a number of years, Nancy Duman worked on location in Chile and took over not only the communication with politicians, but also with local fisherman. Since then, Sphenisco has been recognized, and help and advice is requested by local environmental organizations. Whereas in the first few years it was important to prevent the construction of the coal-fired power plants, the battle now involves preventing industrial ports from being built. In addition, for many years the goal has been to establish a marine protection area, outside of which economic interests must forever remain. Globally, such decisions appear to be very difficult to make. Of course the people who live there must have work and an income.
In order to prevent the Humboldt Penguin from disappearing from the Earth, we have to preserve its natural habitat. In protecting the Humboldt Penguin’s habitat, a number of other animals and plants automatically would profit as well, species that are also a part of the whole and essential as well. With the destruction of the oceans, but also the rainforests, we systematically rob ourselves of our basis for life, and ecosystems and the animals that live therein disappear. Whether the orangutans in the rainforest of Indonesia, the polar bears in the Arctic or the Humboldt Penguins in the ocean, they are all victims of human interference in biodiversity. Their fate will become a symbol of all animal species, including our own.
And so in Sphenisco’s eleventh year, the struggle is about the creation of a marine protection area that is as large as possible. The decision whether industrial ports are allowed to be built, is currently being decided in the courts. We can only hope that the courts do not consider only economic interests. Another goal this year is to support a “Penguin Hospital”, where injured and weak animals can be brought back to health and released back into the ocean.
Each year we hear about the terrific campaigns that are conducted with children. My personal favorite project is in Peru. There, a very small organization with a lot of dedication helps instill in children the importance of protecting nature. Teachers are educated further, so that they can teach their pupils. Campaigns conducted during students’ vacation is doubly important, as the children are off the streets and learn something not for school, but for their lives. And the cute penguins are perfectly suitable to open people’s hearts. Thereby, it certainly is about the big picture.
Here in Europe there’s also a lot going on. Just last year, a lot of signatures were gathered in order to show that the world is watching those in Chile. Penguin Day on April 25th or on the weekends before or after, are dates utilized by zoological gardens to call attention to the destiny of the Humboldt Penguin’s wild brothers and sisters. We listened closely to the reports of what has happened in this last Sphenisco year. We were amazed to hear the treasurer’s report, about how much money is worked with and how carefully it is handled. We love to be a part of the fantastic Sphenisco family, and count ourselves among its dedicated members. We are already pleased to be seeing you all again next year, and hopefully with good news for the Humboldt Penguin. Even if the news in the past has not been all good, Sphenisco e.V. is celebrating its tenth anniversary, and the Humboldt Penguin is still in its natural habitat – that’s good news, right?
And should it someday be the case that all of our efforts for the Humboldt Penguin were not enough, none of us can accuse themselves of not having at least tried. We spent the tenth birthday watching the sun go down on the fairgrounds of the Landau Zoo, with a tasty barbecue buffet, inspiring conversation and all kinds of fun. Nancy Koßmann, a zookeeper at the Landau Zoo and the Vice Deputy Chairperson of the Professional Federation of Zookeepers (BdZ), represented the BdZ and presented a check to Sphenisco on its birthday. Thus, the eleventh year of the organization is gaining momentum. The battle continues with the firm belief that the responsible parties can be persuaded to give the Humboldt Penguin a chance to live its life.
Birgit Roth
Translated by Erich Greiner