25 April 2016 is World Penguin Day – a day to celebrate penguins around the world. It’s a day to share the love of penguins, find out more about penguins, explore what others have to say about penguins and tell your friends about penguins – particularly their plight!
According to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the African Penguin or Spheniscus demersus is listed as an endangered species. The IUCN figures show that the South African population has declined from an estimated 56,900 pairs in 1979 to 20,699 pairs in 2009. These figures correspond to an estimated decline of 61% in the past 28 years (three generations), hence the population decline is placed in the band 50-79%.
The African Penguin is not alone: Of the 17 species of penguins in the world, the IUCN has named four others as endangered: the yellow-eyed penguin and erect-crested penguin from New Zealand, the Northern rockhopper penguin from islands in the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean and the Galapagos penguin in Ecuador. Reasons for declines include sea temperature change causing shifts in forage fish, predators, disease, fishing and toxic algae.
The African penguin is endemic to the Southern African coastline with 29 breeding colonies – 25 islands and 4 mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa. (Kemper et al. 2007). The reasons for the significant decline in the African Penguin populations are well known. Initially, the decline was due mostly to the exploitation of penguin eggs for food, and habitat alteration and disturbance associated with guano collection at breeding colonies. These factors have now largely ceased.
The major current threats include competition with commercial fisheries for pelagic fish prey, and oil pollution.
Other threats include competition with Cape Fur Seals for space at breeding colonies and for food resources, as well as predation by seals on penguins. African Penguins also face predation threats from feral casts at some colonies as well as avian predators such as Kelp Gulls and Sacred Ibises, and on land natural predators include mongoose, genets and leopard at the mainland colonies.
Here is an extract of things you can do to help the African Penguin – for full details please visit the website of our friends at “Penguin Promises” including a list of some of the concerns, and some suggested promises that you can make that may assist the plight of the Penguins:
- Support the Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI): The Penguins are a part of the ecosystem- if you make wise choices about what fish you eat, you will help maintain the eco-system.
- Only eat grain fed chicken: Anchovies are the primary diet for Penguins, but most of the anchovies caught by the fisheries are turned into fish meal to feed farmed fish or chicken. So if you eat chicken, make sure it is grain-fed!
- Respect the Penguin’s home: If you are resident in an African Penguin area, respect the boundaries of their nesting sites. Lobby to ensure that the areas are not threatened.
- Visit the Penguin’s homes: There are tourism attractions in places like Boulders Beach and Betty’s Bay. Seeing these birds in these controlled wild scenarios will inspire you to take care of them.
- Lobby to look after the birds: Contact the authorities to ensure that they are doing their best to look after this species.
- Get involved in coastal clean ups: Litter in our oceans is a threat to the Penguins. If you don’t live on the coast arrange a waterway clean up in your area.
- Use environmentally friendly household cleaning products: To keep the waterways clean – because all the water ends up in the sea, watch that you only put products down your drain that are friendly to the environment.
- Choose a plastic product that you will not use in the future: Plastic products are made from oil. Relying less on oil means that it will not end up in the sea, where it is hazardous to these birds.
Here are some suggestions on how you can use less plastic.
- Don’t buy plastic shopping bags: reuse quality fabric bags
- Don’t use plastic drinking straws
- Don’t take plastic take away cutlery
- Don’t do bottled water. They are not good for the environment in so many ways, and yes, the oil industry makes the bottle.
- Buy local products: Choose a product that you will only buy locally, perhaps food or clothing. Then it does not have to be shipped in – that means, less chance of oil spills. Furthermore, the more of us that demand local, the less carbon emissions will be created.
BE PROACTIVE: Here are some proactive promises:
- Pass on this information: Share knowledge to create awareness
- Pick up litter: Anywhere, anytime as this action inspires others and makes sure that litter does not end up in the sea.
- Make a pact to be involved in at least one environmental day this year.
- Become a volunteer for a conservation organisation: SANCCOB if you live in Cape Town, or volunteer at a local organisation in your home town.
- Choose an action that will assist to reduce your carbon emissions or at the very least offset your actions.
- Stay informed about the Penguin: The more we know, and share with others, there greater the chance of people effecting social change.
People and organisations that love Penguins
- SANCCOB Save Seabirds
- Penguin Promises
- Two Oceans Aquarium
- Boulders Beach, Table Mountain National Park
- Birdlife South Africa
- Animal Demography Unit at UCT
- Earthwatch Institute
- What’s the Point? (special thanks for sharing great photos always!)
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