Penguins are always a great source of entertainment. From their comic on-land “Charlie Chaplin waddle” to their masterful underwater flying acrobatics. One cannot help but be entertained by these ocean dwellers and as conservationist Joe Moore so aptly states: “It is impossible to look at a penguin and remain angry.”
Only one species of penguin calls the African continent home and South Africa is lucky enough to be their homeland. Tourists from both at home and abroad flock to the African penguin colonies along the South African coastline to marvel at the antics of these tuxedo-wearing birds. They are fascinating and charismatic creatures, they delight the eye and captivate our hearts, leaving onlookers with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Unfortunately, this iconic bird is on the brink of extinction. We have lost 99% of our African Penguin population through no fault of their own. The story of the African penguin is not a good story to tell.
But Africa is not for sissy’s and the tenacious African penguin is living proof of that. They like it here and have every intention to stay. The fact that the African penguin is still “hanging five” along our coastline underlines their “against all odds” attitude. We are, however, left with the very real possibility that the African penguin will be gone from the wild in our lifetime.
2001 – 56,000 breeding pairs
2017 – 16 000 breeding pairs
A loss of 90 birds per week every week since 1956.
We do not aim to save the African penguin from extinction because they are cute waddling comedians on land and the world’s best underwater flyers. We need to save them because they play a vital role in fertilising the fish nurseries around islands, they are part of the biodiversity of our oceans. The African penguin is an indicator species, their demise should have set off alarm bells, years ago but ignorance was bliss. We can no longer afford to be ignorant, we must act. Be an actor and a penguin star, click the penguin and #GiveToSave.
How did we get to this point, where they may disappear from the wild sooner than what we would want.
Before the advent of artificially produced fertiliser, guano was considered a top quality fertiliser rich in nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. Guano (an Inca word for a mix of eggshell, feathers, decayed corpses and bird excrement)
The guano was scraped from the penguin breeding islands. On Dyer Island, the guano layer was between 4-6m deep. Penguins used to build their nests by burrowing into the thick layers of guano. This “forced removal” from well protected, temperature controlled burrows to open surface nests, exposed the African Penguin to the harsh African heat and occasional flooding. This “open-plan” living arrangement turned their eggs and chicks into an easy meal for predators like gulls & skuas
In the late nineteenth century, penguin eggs became a popular delicacy among the rich & famous. African Penguin eggs were served on the Titanic as a delicacy. Every Wednesday South African parliamentarians enjoyed penguin eggs for breakfast. It is weird to understand why, because the eggs have a very fishy smell and a green tint.
Between the 1920’s and mid-1950’s, 48% of all African Penguin eggs were collected for human consumption. On Dyer Island, egg collection occurred from 1875 to 1968, with the largest annual harvest recorded in 1905, when 62 500 eggs were collected. On Dassen Island over 590,000 penguins eggs were harvested in one year. The impact of this “eggicide” is immeasurable.
Shortly after the “forced removal” & the ‘’green eggs for jam” period, came the “tar our feathers” incidents. The biggest of these incidents was when a ship called Treasure decided to park on Robben Island in the year 2000. Twenty thousand African Penguins were oiled.
To add insult to injury, their bad luck did not end. The African penguin now faces the contemporary and frightening problem of the over-fishing of sardines and anchovies in particular. Dwindling fish stock are forcing penguins to travel further from home to feed, this would be OK if they only had to feed themselves, but when their chicks need feeding, travelling long distances for “take-out” is not ideal. The need to establish more Marine Protected Area’s (MPA’s) around our coastline is now critical.
African penguins have their natural enemies. Unfortunately, some Cape fur seals have turned into lazy hunters. They do not travel the ocean to look for fish, they make the penguins do the hard work. They laze around the colonies, waiting for the penguins to return from their hunting trip, only to attack returning penguins for their stomach contents, alone. This newly learned behaviour by seals is further contributing to the demise of the African penguin.
At the African Penguin & Seabird Sanctuary, we know that #EveryPenguinCounts.
We offer rest & recovery for the sick & injured, washing and rinsing for those who get tarred by all the small incidental oil spills. Together with CapeNature we remove abandoned chicks from the colony and provide these chicks with a foster home until they are ready to fledge and face the perils of the Big Blue.