African Penguins that live off the coast of South Africa have long been a tourist attraction because of their trusting nature that allows people to approach them. African Penguins have also been fighting for their lives for the past 50 years as their numbers decrease on a weekly basis.
The African Penguin population has dropped by 80 percent in recent years and in June 600 chicks were lost because of a sudden cold surge. Their numbers have decreased so much the International Union for the Conservation of Nature recently changed their status on their Red List from a “vulnerable species” to an “endangered species.”
African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) which are also known as Black-footed Penguins and Jackass Penguins (because of their braying sounds) are the only penguin that breeds in Africa. They live primarily off the coast of South Africa in 24 colonies. In 1956 there were 150,000 breeding pairs, but that number has dropped to less than 26,000 mating pairs.
Why The Population Is Declining
The species is losing nearly 100 birds per week and experts put the blame on several factors.
One of the primary reasons is a change of the penguins’ food source. African Penguins feed off anchovy and sardines and the waters where they hunt have less of both of these fish.
Another reason seems to be the vulnerability of young chicks to the weather patterns of the area. Last month 600 chicks ranging in age from a few weeks to two-months old died when the weather suddenly plunged. The young birds were only covered in down feathers which left them susceptible to the extreme conditions of rain and wind.
A spokeswoman for South Africa National Parks told The Guardian that cold weather in June is not unusual. “It is common for a third of a penguin population’s chicks to die in such weather conditions,” said the spokeswoman.
The small black and white penguins are also at-risk to several types of predators. Mongoose, Kelp gulls and feral cats eat their eggs on the beach – while sharks whales and seals kill adults in the water.
The SA Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (Samrec) recently released six African Penguins they rehabilitated because of injuries from larger animals. All of the penguins were rescued by members of the public.
“One had wounds on its neck, either from a seal or shark,” said Libby Sharwood, founder of Samrec in an interview with The Herald.
“The legs of another were entangled in carelessly discarded fishing gut,” she continued. “We had to stitch the neck wound and treated it with antibiotics, and we used anti-septic ointment on the leg wounds.”
“We treated all of the birds with vitamins and then fed them until they were fit to be released.”
African Penguin populations also decreased after an enormous oil spill in June, 2000 when the MV Treasure tanker sank. The spill affected approximately 38,000 penguins during the height of their mating season. Rescuers found 19,000 African Penguins covered in oil and brought them to a warehouse in Cape Town for cleaning and rehabilitation.
Another 19,000 penguins that were in danger were removed and taken to a safe area where they were released. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) oversaw the rescue effort which ultimately had a success rate of 95 percent.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature hopes to save the African Penguin and has placed the species under their protection plan. They will be monitoring the breeding colonies, hope to replenish their food sources and hinder predators that scoop up the penguins’ eggs.
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