HEIGHT: 68-70 cm tall
WEIGHT: Between 2 and 5 kg
CHARACTERISTICS: A black stripe and black spots on the chest. The pattern of spots is unique for every penguin, like human fingerprints . Pink glands above their eyes, used for cooling their blood. The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands so it may be cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink. Males are larger than the females and have larger beaks. Their distinctive black and white coloring is a vital form of camouflage – white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the dark water.
FEEDING HABITS: Forage in the open sea for fish, such as pilchards and anchovies, and marine invertebrates such as squid.
PREDATORS: In the water, these include sharks, cape fur seals and, on occasion, orcas. On land these include mongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs – and the kelp gulls which steal their eggs and newborn chicks.
DISTRIBUTION: The African penguin is found on the south western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It is also known as the Jackass penguin for its donkey like bray, although several species of South American penguins produce the same sound. It is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa and its presence gave name to the Penguin Islands.
THREATS: Much of the original declines in population were due to over-collection of eggs for food, but today the greatest threat comes from a lack of food due to overfishing local fish stocks. The risk of oil pollution is also a threat.
Commercial fisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce. Global climate change is also affecting these penguins’ prey abundance.
As recently as the mid-twentieth century, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and were still being collected for sale.
DID YOU KNOW?
Disaster struck on 23 June 2000, when the iron ore tanker MV Treasure sank between Robben Island and Dassen Island, South Africa, oiling 19,000 adult penguins at the height of the best breeding season on record for this vulnerable species. The oiled birds were brought to an abandoned train repair warehouse in Cape Town to be cared for. An additional 19,500 un-oiled penguins were removed from Dassen Island and other areas before they became oiled, and were released about 800 kilometers east of Cape Town, near Port Elizabeth. This gave workers enough time to clean up the oiled waters and shores before the birds could complete their long swim home (which took the penguins between 1 and 3 weeks). Some of the penguins were named and radio-tracked as they swam back to their breeding grounds. Tens of thousands of volunteers descended upon Cape Town to help with the rescue and rehabilitation process, which was overseen by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), and took more than three months to complete. This was the largest animal rescue event in history; more than 91% of the penguins were successfully rehabilitated and released-an amazing feat that could not have been accomplished without such a tremendous international response.