When you think of Africa, it’s not normally associated with penguins; at least not in my mind. Penguins are usually associated with snow and cold somewhere. But today’s endangered animal comes hails straight from the coastal waters of Namibia and South Africa where they are endemic. The African Penguin is known by other names such as Black-footed penguin and Jackass Penguin; the latter of which is because of the sound of their braying call which sounds very much like a donkey.
Like most other genus of penguin, these have the black and white tuxedo look. They are quite tiny in size — weighing about 4-11 pounds (2-5 kilograms) as adults. They also have wings but they don’t fly in the air; they “fly” (glide) really well in the water. Mature adults have pale pink around their eyes. Their diet consists of mostly fish including: anchovies, sardines and herring but they have been know to eat squid and other shellfish. African penguins can stay underwater for about two and a half minutes before it needs to come up for air which is why its wings are specialized in such a way that allows the penguin to swim very fast.
African penguins dig their own nesting burrows to lay eggs in. The nests usually consist of sand or guano, which, if you don’t know what guano is, I’ll tell you; it’s seabird poop. Back in the 19th century, humans were guano crazy because it’s such a rich mixture of nitrogen, phosphate and potassium that it makes very good fertilizer. It’s also a good place to incubate eggs for African penguins. A pair of African penguins are monogamous and they actually share nesting duties such as incubation. When a female lays her clutch, the offspring hatches about 30 days later. African penguins don’t reach sexual maturity until about 4 years old and can live anywhere between 10 to 25 years in the wild.
African penguins are marked as Endangered on the IUCN Red List and have been that way since 2010. Population decline has been quite rapid. For example, in 1978 there were a little over 12,000 pairs in Namibia but by 2015 there were only a little over 5,000 pairs. Same for South Africa. In the 1970s there were 70,000 pairs but by 2015 there were only a little over 19,000 pairs. These are huge decreases and they’re still steadily declining. Today there are about 50,000 total individuals between Namibia and South Africa.
The major threats to this species are competition with commercial fisheries, the decrease in guano, oil spills, and in the early 20th century it was due to egg stealing. Because a combination of all of these things, African penguins have had to work harder to find food to raise their chicks, have nests out in the open instead of burrows or deal harshly with human disturbance. Conservation efforts are underway. Seabirds and their guano are strictly protected, all penguins are rehabilitated when oil spills occur, fiberglass igloo burrows have been installed around colonies so the penguins have a safe place to nest, and there are marine “no-take” zones in some parts of the ocean to combat competition against commercial fisheries.
If after reading this you decide you would like to donate to help save the African Penguin, check out The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Sea Birds (SANCCOB) and adopt a penguin!