11 April 2011

African penguin numbers at an all-time low

Matt van Onselen
Ayoba - the quiet diplomat at the Aquarium

The African penguin – the only species of penguin that breeds on the African continent – is facing the possibility of extinction. These flightless birds have been on the endangered list since May 2010, but now their numbers are at an all-time low.

The rate of decline of the African penguin is striking, with a decrease of almost 100 birds every week for the last 30 years due to habitat destruction, oil spills and predation. There is only a small window of opportunity in which to make a difference, and we need to make the most of it!

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust is committed to preserving the conditions on Dyer Island – a critically important breeding colony for African penguins – to halt the alarming decrease in numbers that has been recorded over the last 30 years.

The trust has been building artificial nests on the island; shelter for breeding penguins. Now the project has been extended to several other breeding areas around Southern Africa.


You can buy a nest or make a donation to the trust if you wish to help.

An African penguin diving. Photo courtesy Bjoertvedt/Wikipedia

At the Aquarium, we are lucky enough to have several African penguins to keep us company. If Zuki is too busy helping out in the staff office or showing off her soccer skills, then you could always meet Ayoba, who is known for his quiet diplomacy.

African penguins are known for their ability to speed through water because their body shape is so streamlined. They dive into the sea to catch fish, and glide effortlessly through the water, reaching speeds of up to 32km an hour.

These penguins are also extremely easy-going, and they usually allow people to walk up close to them. They differ from other penguins in that they make a strange noise, which sounds a lot like a donkey’s bray, and that’s how they communicate with one another in their colonies.

They also form lifelong, and often bizarre, mating rituals with their partners. You can see an example of this in the BBC video below:


We are fortunate to live so close to the African penguin; but every day this rare species moves closer to disappearing from our shores altogether.

On a related note, the Aquarium runs Penguin Encounters with rockhopper penguins. R100 of each ticket sold is donated to The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds.

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