Whereas there were more than a million of them a century ago, there are currently fewer than 50,000 of these endemic-to-southern Africa penguins left in the wild. Shockingly, at their current rate of decline, it is estimated that they will be extinct by 2026! In November 2013 the African Penguin Spheniscus demersus was officially listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, but their numbers are still declining.
The African Penguin, also called the Jackass Penguin or sometimes even Spectacled Penguin, is a 60 to 70 cm tall black and white penguin with a distinct patch of naked pink skin above the eye. It is a breeding southern African endemic species, with almost 30 breeding sites confirmed, all the way from Hollamsbird Island in Namibia to Bird Island in Algoa Bay near Port Elizabeth.
They prefer inshore marine waters and love standing around or laying on nearby flat sandy beaches. They eat mostly fish, especially anchovies, pilchards, squid and octopus. They have a donkey-like braying call, hence the Jackass moniker sometimes used.
Famous African Penguin colonies like the one at Boulders Beach at Simon’s Town outside Cape Town and Betty’s Bay close to Kleinmond are facing serious threats – competition for food, overfishing, habitat destruction, climate change, and pollution. Organisations like BirdLife South Africa, SANCCOB and SAMREC are working tirelessly to save these birds and implement novel solutions to prevent their extinction, and local nature reserves and national parks also play important roles acting as sanctuaries in which the penguins can thrive.
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