the rescue

18 FEBR 2009 :
Well in the pic below, it is only half the story, as the pic illustrates only 25 of the 60 baby seals currently rescued and at the centre - Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA

Date: February 11, 2009

Private Baby Seal Rescue Centre
- Full -

Francois Hugo of Seal Alert-SA
and his more than 60 baby Cape fur seals

         Annually government and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) policy of banning CITES Appendix II listed endangered and protected Cape fur seals from all their original endemic islands in order to make these islands exclusively for seabird conservation - has its environmental and cruel negative side. It causes thousands of baby seals to be swept off their small displaced to awash rocks. At some of the 9 offshore colonies, the entire year's cohorts of the colony is effected. Most drown or become shark prey. The reason for this is although a marine mammal, these babies are not born with a waterproof skin/fur and cannot swim until 6 - 8 weeks of age. During mean pupping time each December, Cape Town City Refuse Department collects and disposes of 500-700 dead baby seals that get washed ashore on our public beaches - daily.
        1 in 100 baby seals make the 6 - 22 km swim to shore alive. But, with 36 000 babies born annually in the Cape, this can involve many hundreds if not thousands needing rescue annually.
        Government's policy on this is that they will not fund seal rescue, nor allow seals to return or populated former islands, nor will they make available pilchard stock's to cease the cost of seal rescue. Instead their policy is if the seal is assessed healthy by a local vet, it should be returned to the colony. However to date in the Cape, government has undertaken no such rescue mission. Instead, its awarded the only Seal Rescue permit to the SPCA, who in turn responds and receives seal rescue calls from members of the public. The SPCA has them all then put down, as it believes baby seals cannot be successfully rehabilitated over 12 months, and weaned successfully to hunt on its own in the wild.
        There is also the question of costs, with each baby consuming R20 000, mainly involving the purchase of pilchards for their baby liquidized fish feed formula for the year.

the more than 50 baby seals that have arrived
at the Seal Alert-SA centre in recent weeks

        Francois Hugo of Seal Alert-SA has set-up private Seal Rescue and Rehabilitation facilities in Hout Bay Harbour over the past 10 - years. Its is self-funded. Each year I try to take in a select group of babies from different effected seal colonies, in order to further and pioneer the ability to successfully raise a group of babies in order to eventually establish the means of re-populating these extinct seal islands.
        Things are very different this year. Mass baby seal strandings normally stop within the 1st week of January, as by then, either most have drowned or the remaining survivors have developed some means of swimming, and can therefore regain the awash rock on their own, if swept off repeatidly. But this year, daily, much smaller groups have been coming ashore constantly since January, with reports of 6-8 alive, and as many dead.
       The most effected seal colony, appears to be the seal colony in False Bay. Where daily from Strand to Simonstown, NSRI, local vets, divers, beach constables and members of the public, have been reporting or bringing baby seals to Seal Alert-SA's facilities. Often the SPCA gets there first, and this has upset many members of the public when they find the SPCA taking the seal and putting them down, without any attempt at rehabilitation or rescue or care. Even the Editor of Top Billing Magazine found a baby pup walking in the road and brought it to Seal Alert-SA late one evening, and another Riccardo Gramatica (021-681 3142) was very distressed to learn of Seal Alert-SA's rescue efforts after handing the baby seal to the SPCA.
      Dive Centre in Strand (084 900 9163) has even made their vehicle available for daily transport of baby seals to Seal Alert-SA.
      The problem is, I am private, I receive no government funding or funding from any large ngo's. 58 baby seals at the centre have already indebted me privately to the sum of over 1 million rand, and although I would like to help the public and seals, I am physically maxed to the limit and have no idea, how I will find the money to cover this rehab for the year of rehabilitation required.
     Last year, I successfully rehabbed a group of 13 babies, but 58 and counting is a crisis.
      Pilchard fish processing factories or quota holders are unable or unwilling to donate fish, our primary costs, as they all claim reduced quotas and scarcity of fish. This further increases my costs as I am now required to purchase pilchards for the baby seals at R9 kg. Government should step in and make our fish rescue costs available at no cost.
      It is not logical or community, to expect one individual to cater for the needs of both the seals and members of the whole of the Cape Peninsula. With many residents screaming at Seal Alert-SA for no longer being able to respond to stranded baby seals.
      Seal Alert-SA's Seal Rescue centre is full.
      Unfortunately with this type of species rehabilitation, volunteer work is not possible, as bonds need to be formed throughout the year, in order to able the pup to develop hunting and swimming skills in the wild, whilst still being able to return and suckle from his mom, daily or in our case, tube-fed into the stomach.
      I therefore appeal for understanding, as I am doing more than is humanly possible. The rest is in the public's hands.
For the Seals
Francois Hugo Seal Alert-SA
021-790 8774
083 949 6944


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Swimming in seals, Lots of them !

Date: January 20, 2009

Hi All,
      Work on the main centre is progressing well, I have demolished the two internal pools, replastered and repainted the walls etc, etc. The next job is the mezzanine level above the rescue craft, and then the roof. Work has also started on the outside, repairing and repainting walls etc.
     It has been hectic lately with seal rescue after seal rescue. 3 days ago I rescued 8 baby seals in one day. Something has caused many seals to wash off the largest offshore colony in False Bay, hundreds are washing ashore dead. Many of the seals display mental-type disorders falling about, muscle tremours. First thought appears to be distemper virus which is very contagious, and could effect existing seals at centre and other seals. But as some are recovering, it appears either a toxin in the fish or poisoning. I still feel, that their behaviour is related to acute stress, which means something very violent occurred on their offshore colony during breeding time. I have heard rumours that helicopters were landing on the small rock recently erecting cell-phone masts.
     Tests and time and further investigation will tell, but its a nightmare, as the SPCA is responding only to put the babies down. So its a race to get to these babies first, to save them first from the SPCA. I now have 22 babies in the centre, and its a nightmare as they display mental disorders, which makes handling difficult and I am covered in bite marks, my hands are torn to pieces. One only has experience this first hand to understand how difficult it is raising 22 babies for the next 12 months. Just feeding them three times a day is a nightmare, as they all look them same, and its difficult to keep track of who has been fed and who has not. Raising these 22 babies is going to be an immense challenge.
     Its dawned on me why I do this, and suffer the emotional test of living with their dying plight over and over again. The Seals represent all that is good and natural, whilst mankind callous and unconcerned throws such suffering at them. Through all this, they respond in love and affection, and just long for kindness in their hour of need. Amazing animals. 
     22 baby seals and more expected, is going to crash my budget as this alone is going to cost close to 1/2 million rand.. My plan, is to try and get sponsorship for CCTV video camera's and large LCD TV screens, where tourists can then sit upstairs on the mezzanine level and view the going's on from the different cameras placed around the centre, some even underwater. Hopefully I could charge them an entrance fee, as a means to raising some additional funding. Hopefully the construction work will be complete by April/May.
     Besides this I have disentangled 6 seals, and no sooner, then another at least 8 seals entangled have come into the harbour. All things consider my facilities is really being put to the test, and so far, all the planning and design appears to be working like a dream. I have had to ask my builder, to jump in and help prepare their feed, as feeding alone now takes 3 hours per session, three times a day. Anyway I am surrounded and swimming in sick, injured and dying seals, an entire colony full, and loving every minute of it. Last years pups release, has gone very well, with all returning to the centre regularly, one was even away for an entire month, and only one I have had no sight of.
    Some other good news, I received this,
Dear Mr. Hugo. Macmillan South Africa will be publishing
“English for All for Namibia Grade 9” in a first print run of 5000 copies for distribution in Namibia. The title will retail at R 88,70. We kindly request permission to use an extract from the text, “Baby Seals Flee Namibian Sealers to South Africa and Angola” as  it appears on the African Conservation Foundation website. If possible, this permission request includes future reprint rights. We would greatly appreciate your consent to our request.. "
    This is great, as now children in school will be reading about the Namibian cull. Below as a replacement for the video clip, I am sending you a sequence of pics on a rather strange rescue the other day. Many seals come to my rafts to die. The other morning I noticed, a seal starting to convult on the raft, which is the first step to death. I raced for my dive suit swam out, retrieved him just in time, swam him back to the centre and so far he is pulling through.
    Keep well, all my best Francois.

Main centre with various seal rescue craft.

baby pup recently attacked by seagulls after stranding, pecking out his eye. The Centre with 22 babies, and Mumkin my 4year old pup in the centre.


the swim to the raft
the rescue

last years pups look on.
the swim back
feeding other pups inbetween
and larger seals below centre
tube feeding into the stomach of the dying seal pup.