Projects in Chile

Rescue Center for Marine Animals in Coquimbo

La Serena December 5, 2023 

The care for injured and sick wild animals is a problem in Chile, too. For their rehabiliation there is no sustainable infrastructure as well as no financial arrangement. Sernapesca (fisheries authority) is in charge of the recovery of injured and sick marine animals, but not for their care. There used to be a rescue center for animals including marine animals at the "Museum of Natural History and History" in San Antonio, Central Region. José Brito and his staff performed good and dedicated work there for many years. Sphenisco has supported the work again and again, for example by purchasing medicines. This rescue center was closed some time ago, the reasons are not known to Sphenisco.


Rescue Station in Coquimbo

There is currently a small rescue center with three penguins on the premises of the University Católica del Norte (UCN) in Coquimbo. There, Sernapesca accommodates Humboldt and Magellanic penguins with numerous restrictions. However, as they cannot be well taken care of there, the authorities are forced to quickly pass them on to other rescue centers in the metropolitan region or the Rancagua region.

The station is operated on the basis of a cooperation agreement between the University Católica del Norte (UCN), the Mundomar Foundation and Sernapesca. The university provides fenced-in areas and some related equipment, while the Fundación Mundomar was supposed to contribute trained staff for rehabilitation and veterinary advice. Sernapesca's task was and is to rescue injured animals and bring them to the sanctuary. However, due to financial problems caused by the protests in October 2019 and the subsequent pandemic, the Mundomar Foundation was unable to provide staff as agreed upon. As a result, Sernapesca - and specifically Gerardo Cerda  - was forced to take care of the animals. This was a serious problem, as the authorities were neither responsible nor prepared for this and the maintenance of animals and fenced-in areas is time-consuming. The persons in charge tried to reduce the workload by using students from higher semesters of veterinary medicine and marine biology. However, this was only possible on a temporary basis. After Sphenisco had learned of this problem, the Executive Board examined whether funds could be made available for accommodation and care. In view of the numerous and difficult-to-understand interrelations, the Board was unable to make decisions on support. Since then, Sernapesca, in particular Gerado Cerda, has continued to care for the animals and is trying to fill the cooperation agreement with life and improve care. A few weeks ago, Fundación Mundomar presented construction plans for a new rescue center on the grounds of the university. If all construction phases are completed, the costs will total around € 250,000.

In November, Nancy Duman and Werner Knauf from Sphenisco visited the planned construction site (see pictures) and discussed the status of the "new rescue center" project with Dr. Javier Sellanes L. (Secretary for Environmental Affairs at the Faculty of Marine Sciences). The university is willing to continue to provide land and, if necessary, water and electricity and sees the station as a useful addition to the existing marine aquariums and the exhibition on the sea in the region. Werner Knauf reiterated his willingness to support the construction and operation of the station, if necessary.


Buin Zoo and Fundación Mundomar

A few days later, Nancy Duman and Werner Knauf met Isabell Hernández, veterinarian and president of Mundomar, and Guillermo Rodriguez, her husband, also a veterinarian, at Buin Zoo, 30 kilometers south of Santiago. The couple are the owners of "Buin marino", a section of Buin Zoo. The zoo is private and obviously very popular. When Sphenisco visited the zoo, it was alive with children and school classes.
Isabell Hernández and Guillermo Rodriguez are strongly committed to rescuing animals, that’s the reason why they founded the non-profit Fundación Mundomar around eleven years ago. The foundation runs a small rescue center for eight blind Humboldt penguins in the "Buin marino". The station is financed by donations and as well as revenues from the zoo. Thus the committed couple try to live up to their self-imposed mission of saving marine animals through rehabilitation and release into the wild. This objective is complemented by research and public relations work as well as training and education. The commitment is supported by an interdisciplinary team of veterinarians, biologists, technicians and volunteers. .

During their visit, Nancy Duman and Werner Knauf inspected the fenced-in areas in the "Buin marino" including the station for blind penguins (see pictures). The representatives of Sphenisco are not experts in how to keep animals and also not familiar with the standards in South America. It is therefore difficult to evaluate the adequate animal keeping. It was impressive to hear that salt water is offered and that the water is completely recycled. It was also astonishing to hear that sardines and anchovies have to be bought in the USA, as the Chilean fishery converts its entire catch into fishmeal. The fenced-in areas were well maintained, but appeared small and unstructured. The team at "Buin marino" is especially proud of its Humboldt penguin breeding program. They dream of releasing the animals into the wild in a few years' time. Isabell Hernández and Guillermo Rodriguez did not accept the objection that this plan might be unrealistic in view of the situation in Chilean marine regions and the fact that there is no relevant experience of releasing penguins that have grown up in human care into the wild.

The fenced-in areas of the sea lions and penguins in "Buin marino" cannot be visited. Visitors can watch both species in one show. To the delight of numerous children in particular (up to 700), two penguins were waddling across the "stage", swimming at high speed through a fairly large pool that was visible throughout, including jumps into and out of the water. The "program" of the sea lions was more comprehensive and detailed and also caused storms of enthusiasm among young and old. The zookeepers not only animated and rewarded the animals, but also provided brief information about the animals and their special features.

The team is especially proud of the research project on the blind Humboldt penguins. In cooperation with universities, the causes of their blindness are investigated. Researchers found high levels of heavy metals such as mercury. It is assumed that the harmful heavy metals are taken in with food.


New rescue station in Coquimbo

As mentioned before, Mundomar runs a cooperation with the University Católica del Norte (UCN) and Sernapesca and is planning to build a new station on the university premises. In order to save costs, the water in Coquimbo is not to be enriched with salt, but seawater will be used instead. The current construction plan is to be revised and implemented in stages, depending on the cash situation.

Mundomar would like to gain Sphenisco as a partner. Therefore, Isabell Hernández and Guillermo Rodriguez emphasized that Sphenisco's commitment to fundraising is more important to them than direct financial support. Next, they want to clarify outstanding legal issues with the university and also present financial plans for the first construction phase and maintenance of the station.

After the visit to Buin Zoo, it was announced that Sernpesca intends to close the station until further notice.

The establishment, respectively maintenance of a rescue station in the Coquimbo region is an urgent and important task in view of the existing problems in caring for sick and injured marine animals. The Board of Directors will be looking into this matter and Mundomar's offer to cooperate in the coming weeks. For Sphenisco, this is a major challenge, perhaps too big to handle.


translated by Angelika Veelken, partly using,

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