African penguin Spheniscus demersus
- Conservation status: Endangered
- We know all our penguins by name, and are able to distinguish them by their different dots and markings
- African penguins used to be known as "jackass penguins" because of their braying call
- The only countries where African penguins are found are South Africa and Namibia
African penguins are found only off the coastlines of South Africa and Namibia.
They commonly breed on islands, but there are two land-based colonies – one on Boulders Beach, near Simonstown, and the other on Stony Point, near Betty’s Bay.
Male and female penguins look almost identical. It is very difficult to tell the gender of a penguin without doing a genetic test.
African penguins are currently regarded as vulnerable to extinction. Oil spills are a major threat to their survival. In earlier times the killing of penguins and the collection of their eggs for food, had devastating effects on the population. For example, in the early 1930s some 13-million eggs were collected off Dassen Island alone!
Oil spills can kill
All birds have waterproof feathers, but on penguins these feathers are short, broad and very tightly-spaced to keep water away from their skin. Tufts of down on the feather shafts help to insulate the penguin’s body against the cold. See how the water runs naturally off our penguins when they get out of the pool.
When penguins in the wild are covered in oil from an oil spill, their feathers are no longer waterproof. They can’t swim anymore because they get too cold. This means they can’t hunt for food and so they and their chicks die of starvation.
In the year 2000, a ship carrying iron ore, the MV Treasure, sank off Melkbosstrand on the West Coast. Thousands of litres of oil spilled into the ocean and threatened the lives of African penguins living on Robben and Dassen Island near Cape Town.
Interesting facts from the MV Treasure oil spill in 2000
● 18 516 oiled penguins were rescued by SANCOBB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) from Robben Island and Dassen Island.
● 3 350 penguin chicks were rescued and reared by people.
● Due to a mammoth effort, only about 1 957 oiled penguins died.
● To protect them from the oil, 19 506 un-oiled penguins were captured and taken further up the South African coast. These penguins swam over 778km back to Robben Island, including the now famous penguins – Peter, Pamela and Percy – who were fitted with satellite transmitters by the Avian Demography Unit (ADU) at the University of Cape Town. Their trip was mapped on the ADU’s website and followed by admirers from around the world.
Some of the African penguins displayed in the SAPPI River Meander are third-generation captive-bred birds from the World of Birds in Hout Bay. Others are rescued birds that were donated to the Aquarium by uShaka Marine World in Durban.
These penguins are breeding successfully. The chicks are released back into the wild by SANCCOB under the guidance of Cape Nature Conservation and the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town.
African penguins lay two eggs at a time. Both parents take turns to incubate the eggs and feed the chicks.
It takes between 38 and 42 days for the eggs to hatch.
Newly-hatched chicks are blind and completely helpless. For the first 30 days of the chicks’ lives, the penguin parents protect and feed them around the clock.
The parents regurgitate fat- and nutrient-rich food for the chicks. This helps them to grow quickly and even double their weight within a week.
When the parent birds go to sea to hunt for food, the chicks will huddle together in crèches, waiting on their return.
Blues or juvenile
From about two to three months old, the chicks’ downy feathers are replaced with the blue-grey plumage of the juveniles.
After the chicks have moulted into their juvenile colours they are ready to fledge and the parents leave them to fend for themselves. The juveniles go out to sea and can spend a year away from the colony. Once ready, they return to moult into their adult plumage.
Neptune was found on Aliwal Shoal in 1998, off the south coast of KwaZulu-Natal.
He was taken to Seaworld (Durban) where he stayed until July 2000, when he was given to the Aquarium.
Neptune has a big black smudge in the middle of his neck, below his beak.
Neptune and Alan are a pair.
Sanccob donated Alan to the Aquarium in 2003. Alan is our smallest African penguin and, contrary to her name, is a female and a very dedicated mother.
She has two small spots in the middle of her chest, just under her neckline.
Chuck was originally a World of Birds resident and came to the Aquarium in November 1995.
The easiest way of recognising Chuck is to look for the C-shaped group of spots on the left side of his chest.
Zuki hatched on our beach in January 2009.
Her parents, Chuck and Belinda, reared her until she was approximately one month old.
She was then hand-reared and tamed at SANCCOB in order for her to be returned to the Aquarium to be used in educational programmes and as an ambassador for her species.
George was acquired from World of Birds in November 1995.
George is large penguin and a very good father, protecting his nest, chicks and mate relentlessly.
Better known as “Domino” George, he has a very distinct domino pattern of spots on his chest. George and Gaia are a pair.
Gaia was found near Durban in 1998. She was given to the Aquarium by Seaworld (Durban) in July 2000.
She is easily intimidated and therefore tends to eat at a frantic pace.
If she is very hungry, she will easily pick up fish that the others have dropped and quickly gulp it down.
Gaia has a lovely wavy pattern of spots just under her neckline.
Diesel hatched on our beach in May 2002. She is a female and one of George and Gaia’s chicks.
Diesel is a very good at catching fish in her beak, in mid-air!
She has two horizontal spots on the left-hand side of her chest, below her neckline.
Diesel and Tasmyn are a pair.
Tasmyn hatched on our beach and was reared by his parents, Dorris and Faraday.
He is a large penguin with a small spot in the middle of his chest, just below his neckline.
Faraday was acquired from the World of Birds in November 1995.
He is very easily recognised by the two distinct spots he has in the middle of his neck, above his neckline. It looks almost like a buttoned-up shirt collar.
Faraday is an amazing father and mate.
Faraday and Dorris are a pair.
Doris was acquired from World of Birds in November 1995.
She has a distinct spot in the middle of her chest, about 3cm below her neckline. Dorris and Faraday are always together and one will very seldom see them apart.
Ayoba is Alan and Neptune’s chick. He hatched in June 2010 and was given this soccer-related name which means “awesome”, “amazing” and “fabulous”.
Ayoba was hand-reared to join our African penguin ambassador programme which aims to raise awareness of the plight of African penguins.
He can be recognised by his double chest band.
Laduma hatched at uShaka Seaworld in February 2010. She can be easily recognised by the black smudge on her neck.
Labamba hatched at uShaka Seaworld in January 2010. Labamba has many spots all over her chest and belly. She also has two white flecks of feathers on either side of her lower beak.
Nonu hatched at uShaka Seaworld in February 2011. He has four spots on his belly that form a diamond shape.