Endangered – how did we get here?
We do not want our story to end but unless we get some help we are living in the final chapter of our story. We all know that Africa is not for “sissies”. The African Penguin is a perfect example of African tenaciousness.
First came the “eggers” – egg collectors
For a while, our green tinged, fish smelling eggs were considered a delicacy. Up until the 1960’s over 3 million eggs were removed from our breeding islands. In the late nineteenth century, penguin eggs became a popular delicacy among the rich & famous. African Penguin eggs were served on the Titanic and every Wednesday as a breakfast delight in parliament. It is weird to understand why, because the eggs have a fishy smell and a slight green tint. Weirdly, the whites of penguin eggs, when boiled, do not set, although the yolk does. Between the 1920’s and mid-1950’s, it is estimated that 48% of all African Penguin eggs were collected for human consumption.
Then came the “scrapers” – guano collectors
Before the advent of artificially produced fertiliser, guano (fancy name for seabird poop) was scraped from the penguin breeding islands. On Dyer Island, the guano layer was 4-6m thick & penguins used this precious material to build their homes by burrowing into the thick layers of guano. These burrowed nests kept us insulated from heat & cold and protected from predators. Our breeding islands are now barren rocks. We are forced to nest in shallow hollows, exposed to the sun, predators and occasional flooding. This “forced removal” from burrows to surface nests exposed the African Penguin to the harsh African heat and their eggs and chicks provided a “fly-through take away” for predators like gull skuas.
They say bad luck come in three’s – so then came the “oilers”
Oil spills, whether big or small is bad news for us penguins. A spot of oil the size of your thumb nail can cause us harm. Imagine cutting a hole in a wetsuit – water seeps in, you get cold. The same happens to us, we lose our waterproofing, become waterlogged & can drown. We try to preen off the gooey black toxic stuff which we then ingest and we get sick from ulcers and will eventually die if we do not get help.
Where did all the sardines go?
To add insult to injury our bad luck did not end. We now face a contemporary and frightening problem of overfishing of sardines and anchovies in particular. Dwindling fish stock are forcing us to travel far from home to feed, this would be OK if we only had ourselves to feed, but when our chicks need feeding, traveling long distances for “take out” is not ideal.
We have our natural enemies but some of them, like the Cape fur seal, have learned to make us do the hard work – we go fishing and upon our return, they lie in wait. They target us merely for our stomach contents, they grab us, shake us around and discard as like empty packaging. This new learned behavior by some lazy characters is contributing to the demise of our kind.
Botton line: We, the African penguin species are disappearing at a rapid pace.
IUCN classification: Endangered (May 2010)