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Student Saving Endangered Penguins Halfway Around the World

Submitted by on April 10, 2023 – 3:02 pm

Haverhill, MA (April 10, 2023)– Northern Essex Community College biology student Heather DiLuzio has always had a passion for animals. Growing up in Littleton, MA, her family had dozens of pets and even rehabilitated several wild animals. Now, that passion is taking DiLuzio to South Africa. She will be interning with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) for six months, starting at the end of April.

Heather stands on one leg in front of waterfall

Heather DiLuzio will be helping to hatch African penguin chicks.

“I believe that every species is important, and it’s my calling to be the voice for the voiceless,” says DiLuzio.

DiLuzio credits her Northern Essex biology professor Diann Cahaly with helping her discover how to use her voice “She has really sparked an interest in my curiosity of conservation and evolution. We have spent quite a bit of time on the impact humans have on the environment.”

DiLuzio has a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University in business. She’s been working at a non-profit in North Andover for the past six years and recently became a licensed wildlife rehabber. She started to explore getting her master’s degree and thought she’d test the waters at NECC first. “It’s been a while since I’ve been in school – I ended up at NECC because they had quite a few classes I was interested in,” she remembers. “I felt it would be a good way to ascertain if I would like to pursue a master’s in marine or conservation biology. I had no idea how beneficial it would be to me!”

heather holds up baby turtle

Heather recently became a certified wildlife rehabber and is mentored through the Turtle Rescue League in Southborough, MA.

A chance encounter with a staffer from SANCCOB at a wildlife rehabber conference led her to this internship opportunity. DiLuzio will work in the Chick Rearing Unit, caring for African penguin hatchlings. The hatchlings require feeding every three hours and close monitoring of behavior and temperature. Her duties will also include a procedure called ‘candling’ the egg, which involves shining a bright light against the eggshell to determine the viability of the embryo and how far the embryo has developed. The process from egg hatching to release usually takes three to four months. SANCCOB has successfully released almost 8,000 African penguin chicks back into the wild.

While the internship will provide invaluable experience for DiLuzio, it is unpaid. So, she is currently raising funds to help cover some of her travel and housing costs and living expenses. Northern Essex is providing a $5,000 scholarship through the NECC Foundation, Inc. Incorporated in 1972, the Foundation assists NECC by making connections with the business community, foundations, and other potential revenue sources. It additionally hosts fundraisers and special events. Funds raised are used for student scholarships, equipment purchases, program revitalization efforts, faculty and staff development, and other needs as they arise.

heather scuba diving

Heather is also SCUBA certified.

“I have been blown away by the support I received from NECC –  I had no idea how much of an impact the school would have on my life when I started last fall. With their help (and my biology teacher Diann Cahaly specifically), they are supporting me as I pursue my dream of helping endangered animals. It’s a bold next step for me, but I feel extremely lucky to have the encouragement of friends, family, and NECC!”

Learn more about  DiLuzio’s internship and help her on her mission here.