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Waddle you do for the African Penguin?

Waddle you do for the African Penguin?

Oct 2014

Words Fiona McIntosh, pics Shaen Adey/SANParks/SANCCOB 

Saturday 11 October is African Penguin Awareness Day - a day dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of the endangered African penguin. SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) and numerous other local and international organisations, zoos and aquariums throughout the world will join forces in an effort to save the only penguin species to occur naturally on the African continent.

The Simon’s Town Penguin Festival is a chance get up close and personal with the charismatic bird, and to celebrate the arrival of spring (we hope!) in one of the most beautiful parts of the Cape. There are various festivities at Boulders Beach between 11h00 and 14h00 including snake and raptor shows, games, environmental exhibitions, raffles, food stalls as well as the chance to meet SANCCOB’s ambassador penguin, and one of the highlights of the day is a SASSI sustainable seafood braai prepared by contestants from The Ultimate Braai Master and sponsored by Pick ‘n Pay.

The most moving part of the festival is the Penguin Beach Release, which takes place at 10h00 at Simon’s Town Seaforth Beach - a chance to encounter the African penguins as they waddle their way back into the wild. Last year 41 rehabilitated birds were released, much to the delight of the cheering crowd.

This is only one example of the SANCCOB’s efforts. With the help of SANParks and other partners, the organisiation admits close to 1500 African penguins per year (and a thousand other seabirds) to its centres for rehabilitation and then releases them back into to the wild.

Little beggars…

African penguins are notorious for their donkey-like squawks, hence their alternate moniker ‘jackass’ penguins. But according to a study published in the online journal PLOS ONE in July 2014 the highly social African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) have six different calls in their repertoire. Apparently adult penguins have four basic vocalisations, namely a contact call emitted by isolated birds, an agonistic call used in aggressive interactions, an ecstatic display song uttered by single birds, and a mutual display song vocalised by pairs, at their nests. They also identified two distinct vocalizations that they interpreted as begging calls by nesting chicks (begging peep) and unweaned juveniles (begging moan). 

The status of the African penguin: courtesy SANCCOB in association with SANParks

Less than 2% of the African penguin population remains in the wild. Numbers dropped from an estimated one million breeding pairs in the 1930s to less than 18 000 in 2014, and the African penguin population was reclassified as endangered in 2010. The Boulders Beach Penguin Colony in Table Mountain National Park is one of South Africa’s main African penguin colonies, home to approximately 3070 African penguins. The SANParks staff perform a vital conservation role in the colony and are instrumental in admitting ill, injured, abandoned and oiled penguins to SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) for rehabilitation and release back into the wild. 

Reason for the decline of the African penguin:

Early 20th century

• Penguin eggs were commercially harvested as a delicacy.
• Large-scale harvesting of penguin guano for fertilizer destroyed critical penguin nesting material.
SANCCOB founder, Althea Westphal, was instrumental in halting these devastating practices. 

Late 20th century

• Commercial over-fishing lead to the collapse of fish stocks which penguins depend on.
• Expanding human settlements destroyed penguin habitats.
• Predation on penguins by seals, sharks and land-based animals.
• Increased shipping resulted in oil spills off the southern African coastline.
SANCCOB has responded to every major oil spill off the southern African coastline and rehabilitated thousands of oiled penguins. 

21st century

• Oil spills remain a major threat to penguins. In 2000, the Treasure Oil spill captured the world’s attention as 40 000 penguins were put at risk. SANCCOB and partners successfully executed the biggest wildlife rescue in the world.
• Climate change affects fish stocks and unseasonable moulting patterns which result in mass abandonment of African penguin chicks.
• Discarded plastic, glass, nets and fishing tackle injure penguins. Pollution remains a huge threat to seabirds.

What can you do to help?

There are a few ways in which the public can help in the conservation of African penguins:
•Adopt and name an African penguin by visiting
•Start your own fundraiser for SANCCOB and on Just Giving:
•Visit SANCCOB’s online shop for penguin goodies at
•Donate to SANCCOB online at
•Volunteer at SANCCOB by emailing [email protected]
•Report injured penguins and/or oiled birds to SANCCOB by calling (021) 557 6155 (Western Cape) and (042) 298 0160 (Eastern Cape)
•Download the African penguin posters below and put them in your classroom, in your office, your local community board or on your fridge:

Boulders African Penguin Colony

Nightjar Travel