Running to save the penguins

Dave Chamberlain is pictured during an early morning run past a well known landmark in Retreat.

Runners are a regular sight on roads at this time of year as they train for the Old Mutual Two Oceans Marathon. Recently, if you were up early enough, you might have seen Dave Chamberlain zoom past.

The Two Oceans marks its 50th anniversary this year, and Dave is going all out to celebrate. Although maybe “celebrate” is not the right word because it conjures up images of cake and innards-warming libations. Dave’s idea of celebration is decidedly more Spartan – he’s going to be running the 56km ultra marathon race route 50 times over 50 consecutive days – a total of 2 800km. It’s the equivalent of going to Johannesburg – and back – on the N1.

Apart from the savings he will be making on petrol, the other motivating factor behind this gruelling challenge is Dave’s desire to raise awareness about the plight of the African Penguin. The Pretoria-born endurance runner says he chose BirdLife SA as beneficiary because African penguins are facing their own two oceans challenge.

While he is in Cape Town, he’s staying in Plumstead.

“They’re struggling to survive in their current Atlantic Ocean home because their favourite food source, sardines and anchovies, has moved from the west coast to the south coast, making it much more difficult for the penguins to find enough food to feed themselves and their chicks.

“The penguin colonies haven’t been able to follow their prey because there are no safe breeding areas along the Indian Ocean,” he says.

“If the colonies don’t move straight away, then we’ll move the young chicks before they decide where to breed,” says Dave.

The money he raises will go towards establishing the African Penguin Relocation Project, with new, safe colonies for the penguins along the Indian Ocean, at De Hoop Nature Reserve and Keurbooms River near Plettenberg Bay so they are able to feed themselves and survive.

“I’ve worked with BirdLife South Africa before, also for the African penguin, which may be an iconic Cape Town feature, but many people living here don’t seem to know that.

“I’m not a scientist, but I can run, so this is what I am able to do to help. Everyone can find their own way to make a difference,” he says.

Christina Hagen, of BirdLife SA, who lives in Bergvliet, says their work to create new penguin colonies on the south coast is a response to the dire situation for penguins on the west coast.

“If we’re successful, it will be a world first for the African penguin and help enormously towards securing the future of the species,” she says.

This trial technique to establish penguin colonies has only been attempted once before, in Australia for Little penguins, Christina says.

Dave has run the length of Argentina, crossed Canada and run through the Namibian desert to Port Elizabeth.

In the build-up to the Two Oceans on Saturday April 20, Dave is out pounding the same route day after day – Claremont Main Road, through Diep River and Bergvliet to Fish Hoek, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Hout Bay, Constantia Nek, Rhodes Drive, and Union Avenue to the finish at UCT. His lowest point on each run, he says, is heading up Constantia Nek from Hout Bay. By this point, he’s already run the 42km of a full marathon, and the lack of shoulder on the road makes it a taxing uphill slog surrounded by traffic and with ankles taking strain.

Bird Life SA marketing adviser Mel Tripp, from Gardens, says this is not the first time Dave has run for penguins. A few years ago, he ran the length of the penguin breeding distribution, from Walvis Bay to Port Elizabeth, alone, pushing everything he needed… in a pram.

Dave’s website has some interesting facts about his runs – one marriage proposal, four whistles from septuagenarian cyclists, losing 4.7kg, and helping to push start two cars.

To sponsor a run and donate towards the cause, visit