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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 June, 2004, 12:17 GMT 13:17 UK
New ID tags for penguin comfort
Penguin with tag
Volunteers have spent two weeks making the bands in moulds
Volunteers at Bristol Zoo have been making high-tech identity tags for African penguins in the wild.

The wing bands are being shipped over to Robben Island, South Africa, where a team of Earthwatch volunteers will put them on the endangered birds.

The Silicon tags have been developed by Bristol University physicist and penguin expert Peter Barham.

The design enables individual penguins to be identified without causing damage to their feathers.

For the past four years, trials on penguins at Bristol Zoo Gardens and in the field have found the new tags cause less feather damage than traditional metal tags.

Oil spills

The tags are now part of a longer-term field trial in South Africa.

Biologists from the Avian Demography Unit (ADU), Cape Town University, and the Marine Coastal Management Authority are monitoring the endangered population of African penguins on Robben Island.

Following the sinking of the tanker MV Treasure in 2000, oil pollution threatened 40% of the world's population of African penguins.

This occurred during the height of their breeding season and the effects are still being experienced.

Duncan Bolton, Bristol Zoo's general curator said: "I have been involved with the project for a number of years and have seen first-hand how vulnerable the populations around Robben Island are to these oil spills.

"This area has one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

"More than 10% of the population of African penguins has at one time or another been oiled, cleaned and released."

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30 Apr 02  |  Science/Nature

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