SA celebrates World Penguin Day

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Pretoria - The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) today joins the rest of the world in commemorating World Penguin Day.

The department, along with its partners, has worked to improve the status of the African Penguin and to safeguard the long-term survival of this species in the wild.

Eighteen penguin species have been recorded globally and were found to occur only in the Southern hemisphere, with the most notable in Southern Africa being the African Penguin.

The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is Africa’s only extinct penguin and is also endemic as a breeding species to both South Africa and Namibia.

This seabird was once South Africa’s most abundant seabird, with pairs of over one million in the 1910s, to the present population recorded at less than 25 000 pairs globally.

This led to the status of the African Penguin being reassessed according to the International Union for Conservation for Nature (IUCN) criteria in 2010, where it was up listed from Vulnerable to Endangered. Again in 2016, the status for this species was maintained as Endangered.

In total, the species has declined by over 60% in the last 30 years and by over 50% in the three most recent generations, with continuing declines.

The DEA gazetted the African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan in 2013, which became the first National Biodiversity Management Plan in the country.

The African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan aimed to address various threats on the African Penguin through an action plan. These threats range from the legislative framework, anthropogenic impacts, fish and fishing, natural threats, catastrophic events, insufficient research as well as insufficient education and awareness.

Over the last century, cumulative human impacts within the world’s oceans have become increasingly considerable and were the primary threats to the African Penguin.

These included the harvesting of guano as a source of nitrogen, eggs for human consumption and adults for skin, oil and feathers.

Other impacts were resource competition and  fisheries by-catch, resulting in food shortages, habitat degradation, pollution (such as oil spills and plastics), high levels of predation of eggs, chicks and/or adults by sea gulls and seals or other land-based predators such as mongoose, feral and domestic cats and caracals.

This was exacerbated due to the removal of historic guano where penguins would burrow under in order to establish nests.

Like other seabirds, African Penguins have a valuable role to play in the ecosystem. They are sensitive to ecosystem changes and vulnerable to threats around their breeding colonies. They also have the ability to provide an index of the health of marine ecosystems and can be used as indicators of marine resources, including the distribution of such resources necessary for human consumption. –