An angry bird gave this penguin whisperer his purpose


The penguin was covered in oil. Distressed and traumatised, it bit any person that tried to help it. Nothing seemed to calm it down, until Xolani Lawo stepped in. The lighthouse guide was volunteering after an oil spill. When he took the bird into his arms, it finally relaxed. That moment set his life on a whole new course. “I was at the right place at the right time,” he says. Lawo knew nothing about penguins. What he did know was that he had become a penguin whisperer.  

“Sometimes we’ll find our purpose in life in the most unexpected way,” Lawo says. Since his fateful encounter with that wild penguin, Lawo has spent the last 12 years rescuing others like it. He’s now the senior bird rehabilitator at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary. Lawo works specifically with endangered African penguins, a species that can only be found along the coasts of Southern Africa. Overfishing has led to a massive decline in their food sources, and pollution has taken over their home. Since the early 1900s, their population has decreased by 90%, leaving them on the brink of extinction. Of those that remain, less than two percent of African penguins live in the wild. Lawo is on a mission – to rescue every single one he can. Saving the life of one penguin could mean preserving the entire species.

“My job is to protect them and prevent extinction,” Lawo says. It’s no easy task, but Lawo is driven by the dream that people can still see penguins in the wild within the next few years. “What gets me out of bed in the morning is knowing that I’m making a difference,” Lawo says. He works around the clock to keep them safe. Lawo never planned for this, but when he received the opportunity to do something, he took it. Our animals need us. We owe it to them to give back.