By Dominic Naidoo
African penguin numbers are in rapid decline and your grandchildren may never get to see these gorgeous creatures in their wild natural habitat.
With rapid climate change and food scarcity a major cause for these declining numbers,
African Penguin Awareness Day today raises awareness around the plight of African penguins and their rapid decline in numbers. The Two Oceans Aquarium says African Penguin Awareness Day is celebrated worldwide.
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“African penguins are the only penguin species found on the African continent.
“In the last century, their numbers have declined dramatically and current estimates suggest that there are only between 60 000 and 70 000 individual birds left in the wild, their population numbers were in the millions at the turn of the 20th century.
“With less than 20 000 breeding pairs currently left, scientists estimate that if their numbers continue to decline at the current rate, these charismatic and endemic birds will be functionally extinct in the wild within 15 to 20 years.”
Many are surprised that we have penguins in South Africa.
Commonly when people think of Africa, they may think of sun-kissed beaches, wide-open savannah, golden grasslands stretching far into the horizon, even thorny acacia trees trying to fend off tall horses or of lions prowling low. What they may not think of are penguins.
Yet these rather amazing flightless polar seabirds set up home along our cold Atlantic coast.
Food scarcity is certainly the biggest threat to African Penguins. The Aquarium says, “Being reliant on small fish like anchovies and sardines for food, African penguins are finding it more and more difficult to find sufficient food for themselves and their chicks.
“The low fish stocks are due to overfishing as well as changes in the marine ecosystem caused by climate change, and biodiversity loss.
“Adult penguins have to swim further and further away from their nesting grounds to find food, which not only compromises the chicks on the nests but also the adult birds themselves.”
The Two Oceans Aquarium also had some helpful tips on how we can help save the African Penguin to ensure that future generations also have the opportunity to admire these quirky little tuxedoed waddlers.
1. Be a responsible shopper, the most important one!
Choose only sustainably sourced seafood and species on the WWF SASSI Green List. Sardines are on the orange list, so avoid these as much as possible. When buying meat, check what the animals were fed as livestock. Poultry, in particular, is often fed on fishmeal which is made from sardines and anchovies. The same goes for your pets’ food! Refuse, reuse, recycle and rethink your use of plastic. The less you buy, the less there will be in the environment. And if you have to buy plastic, ensure that you dispose of it responsibly.
2. Support local organisations like SANCCOB and APSS and their work to rehabilitate and release African penguins.
3. When visiting local penguin colonies, obey the rules and do not disturb the penguins by maintaining at least three metres between you and the birds.
4. If you see a penguin in distress, contact SANCCOB +27 21 557 6155 during centre hours and for after-hour emergencies call +27 78 638 3731.
5. Educate yourself and others about the plight of African penguins and what you can do to ensure their survival.
Shanet Rutgers, dedicated Penguin Keeper at Two Oceans Aquarium says, “African penguins do not only act as marine ambassadors and indicator species, but they are also amazing to work with. These birds show tremendous character of life and love. They are an endangered species that is calling out for our help which we can give through education, conservation and awareness. Waddle, we do to help them?”