The amazing African penguin


After having the amazing opportunity to work with African penguins at the Cape St Francis SANCCOB facility, I have a much greater appreciation for these incredible birds! African penguins stand 60-70 cm tall, and are built like a solid rugby player weighing in somewhere between 2.2-3.5 kg. They are beautiful birds, distinct with black backs and white fronts with a black breast band and variable black spotting. The black spots vary between birds and can be used to identify individuals. Juveniles are slate blue, molting browner as they age, and at 2-3 years of age will show varying degrees of the adult facial pattern. Adults have a bare patch of skin above their eyes which assists with thermoregulation. On a hot day the blood flow to this skin patch is increased to aid in cooling the bird down and so can appear very pink on hot days, and whitish on cold days. While the African penguin is a bird, it is a flightless bird, with wings modified into flippers for flying through a marine environment. Their flippers are incredibly strong and can deliver a painful and bruising hit – this I know from experience! The African penguin is a pursuit predator with pelagic fish being its primary target, and principle species including sardines, herring, anchovies, and pelagic goby. While breeding they increase their consumption to feed growing chicks, and before moulting, they will also increase consumption to prepare for when they do not forage, which can be 2-3 weeks. As both the breeding and moulting periods can be variable, there are times where they overlap which can be detrimental to the survival of both chicks and adults. Threats facing the African penguin are many and varied, but humans and human activities are the worst. Population declines have been largely attributed to food shortages primarily due to large fish catches from purse-seine fisheries, though environmental fluctuations and an eastward shift in some fish stocks also plays a role. Oil spills greatly affect the survival and successful breeding of African penguins, while past activities such as guano harvesting and egg collecting have been an additional threat.

Written by: Minke Witteveen

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