African Penguin

African Penguin

Penguins in Africa? Can penguins even live in Africa?

Indeed, the African continent boasts its own penguin species—the African penguin—which inhabits Southern African waters.

In addition to its distinctive, braying vocalizations—which earned the species its oh-so-flattering nickname, the jackass penguin—this bird can be identified by a long, black stripe across its chest and back and spotting on its white breast and belly. Each penguin has its own unique spot pattern, much like zebra stripes or human fingerprints.

Like its penguin brethren, the African penguin is a diminutive creature, reaching up to 70 centimetres tall as adults and weighing between 2 and 5 kilograms.

This marine bird normally remains within 40 km of the coast, coming ashore to breed, molt and rest. Unlike other species of penguins, however, which cover large distances to breed and feed, the African penguin lives close to its breeding sites throughout the year, normally staying within 400 km.

This species is known to breed at 25 islands and four mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa, though it has been spotted as far north as Gabon and Mozambique. (They sometimes swim farther from their breeding sites in search of food, which typically includes sardines, anchovies and other small schooling fish.)

These days, this expert swimmer may be swimming farther than usual. That’s because the African penguin population has declined rapidly in recent decades, largely because of food shortages resulting from commercial fishing.

Other threats include collection of eggs and guano—which the birds use to make their nests—accidental capture in fishing nets and oil spills. Two individual oil spills alone in 1994 and 2000 killed 30,000 penguins. With the African penguin’s entire habitat located near existing or planned ports, the remaining 50,000 birds are at risk.


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