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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The African penguin is a medium-sized penguin, and the only species breeding on the African continent (5). Penguins have a robust, heavyset body and this species are black on the back and white below, with variable black markings on the breast and belly (2). Juvenile plumage is slate blue on the upper surface and this gradually turns darker, developing the adult black-and-white facial pattern in the second or third year. Penguins have small muscles at the base of each feather that enable them to be held tightly against the body whilst in water, forming a waterproof layer; alternatively, on land they are held erect, trapping an insulating layer of air around the body (5). These penguins are also known as 'jackass penguins' due to their loud, braying call (6).
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Biology

African penguins are colonial breeders with pairs returning to the same site year after year. Unusually, there is no fixed breeding season although nesting peaks in Namibia between November and December and in South Africa between March and May. Nests are situated in burrows or depressions under boulders and bushes where they will receive some protection from the potentially harsh temperatures (5). The clutch size is usually two and both parents take it in turns to incubate the eggs for a period of about 40 days; penguins have a bare patch of skin on the lower abdomen (known as the 'brood patch'), which allows greater transfer of heat to the eggs. Following hatching, the adults will continue to guard the chicks until they are about 30 days old, regurgitating food straight from their stomach following foraging trips. Chicks are then left alone in crèches whilst their parents forage; at between 60 and 130 days old they develop juvenile plumage and leave the colony (5). These penguins feed on fish such as anchovies (Engraulis capensis) and sardines (Sardinops sagax) (2). Adapted for their aquatic lifestyle, African penguins can reach speeds of 20 kilometres per hour in the water and range from 30 to 70 kilometres in a single trip; average dives last for 2.5 minutes, reaching depths of 60 metres. Penguins have waterproof coats that need to be constantly maintained by preening, when a waxy substance is distributed from the base of the tail. Even with these measures, their plumage is replaced yearly and African penguins come ashore to moult over 20 days between November and January in South Africa and between April and May in Namibia (5).
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Spheniscus demersus, commonly known as African, black-footed, or jackass penguin, is the only penguin species found on the African continent. This species inhabits the Benguela and western Agulhas ecosystems of southern Africa. African penguins form colonies near a chain of islands between Hollamsbird Island, Namibia, and Bird Island in Algoa Bay, South Africa.

Biogeographic Regions: ethiopian (Native )

  • Crawford, R., J. David, L. Shannon, J. Kemper, N. Klages, J. Roux, L. Underhill, V. Ward, A. Williams, A. Wolfaardt. 2001. African penguins as predators and prey-coping (or not) with change. African Journal of Marine Science, 23: 435-447.
  • Frost, P., W. Slegfried, J. Cooper. 1976. Conservation of the jackass penguin (Spheniscus demersus). Biological Conservation, 9/2: 79-99.
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Range Description

Spheniscus demersus breeds at 25 islands and four mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa (Kemper et al. 2007). It has been recorded as far north as Gabon and Mozambique (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Breeding on Neglectus Island, Namibia, was confirmed in 2001, following the absence of confirmed breeding since 1952 at least, and an increase in numbers since 1995 (Roux et al. 2003). In 2003, there were thought to be 11 breeding pairs on the island (Roux et al. 2003). In the 1980s, the species colonised Stony Point and Boulders Beach on the South African mainland, and recolonised Robben Island (Petersen et al. 2006). Immigration to mainland sites in recent years has been attributed to an eastward shift in the species's prey populations (R. Crawford per Koenig 2007, L. Underhill per Koenig 2007). Just seven islands now support 80% of the global population. The most important sites in South Africa are Dasssen island: 13,283 pairs, St Croix Island: 8,077 pairs, Robben Island: 3,697 pairs, Bird Island (Nelson Mandela Bay): 2,822 pairs, Dyer Island: 2,076 pairs and the Boulders: 1,075 pairs (Kemper et al. 2007). In Namibia, Mercury Island held 1,813 pairs in 2006 (Kemper et al. 2007). Its population at the beginning of the 21st century had fallen to about 10% of its numbers 100 years before. The total population was estimated at 141,000 pairs in 1956-1957, 69,000 pairs in 1979-1980, 57,000 pairs in 2004-2005 and 36,000 pairs in 2006-2007 (Kemper et al. 2007). Declines have continued, with the global population in 2009 estimated at just 25,262 pairs (R. Crawford in litt. 2010, J. Kemper in litt. 2010), equating to a decline of 60.5% over 28 years (three generations).

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Range

Coasts and islands off Namibia, South Africa and adj. waters.

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Range

Found in southern Africa, these penguins are known to breed on 24 islands between Hollamsbird Island, Namibia and Bird Island in Algoa Bay, South Africa (2).
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Historic Range:


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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Adults stand around 45 cm tall and weigh an average of 3.1 kg. African penguins have black plumage on the back and white feathers with black markings on the chest and belly. The white and black plumage serves as camouflage to predators, with the white appearing to aquatic predators from below and the black appearing to aerial predators from above. They also have a horseshoe-shaped white band that goes around the eye from the chin towards the beak. Additionally, a horseshoe-shaped band of black goes across their chest. Juveniles have gray-blue feathers that darken to black with age. The change from juvenile plumage to adult plumage takes around 3 years.

African penguins resemble their close relatives, other species in the genus Spheniscus, including Galapagos penguins of the Pacific Ocean and Humboldt penguins and Magellanic penguins of South America. The 4 Spheniscus species share size and plumage characteristics.

Average mass: 3.1 kg.

Average length: 45 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike

  • Cooper, J. 1977. Moult of the black-footed penguin. International Zoo Yearbook, 18: 22-27.
  • Stefoff, R. 2005. Penguins. 99 White Planes Road Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Benchmark.
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Diagnostic Description

Description

Length: 60 cm. Plumage: Adult black above white below with black band extending from upper breast down sides of body to feet, occasionally with a second narrower complete or incomplete black neck band and very sparce black spotting on belly; face black with broad white band separating face patch from crown and back of head. Immature sooty black on back, white on belly with sparce black spotting. Bare parts: iris hazel; bill black with cream band behind tip; feet blackwith pink blotches; skin above eye red.
  • Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban & K. Newman (1982). The Birds of Africa, Volume I. Academic Press, London.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Behaviour The adults of this species are largely sedentary but some movements occur in response to prey movements (Hockey et al. 2005). They generally remain within 400 km of their breeding locality, although they have been recorded up to 900 km away (Hockey et al. 2005). They breed and moult on land before taking to the sea where they remain for four months before returning to land for the next breeding season (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Small crèches of up to five juveniles may form at the breeding site (del Hoyo et al. 1992). On gaining independence, juveniles disperse up to 1,900 km from their natal colonies (Hockey et al. 2005), with those from the east heading west, and those from the west and south moving north (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Most birds later return to their natal colony to moult and breed (del Hoyo et al. 1992), although the growth of some island colonies has been attributed to the immigration of first-time breeders tracking food availability (Crawford 1998, Hockey et al. 2005). Adults nest colonially and at sea forages singly, in pairs, or sometimes co-operatively in small groups if up to 150 individuals (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey 2001, Hockey et al. 2005). It breeds year round with peak months varying locally (del Hoyo et al. 1992). In the north-west part of the range, peak laying occurs during the months of November to January, in the south-west it occurs between May and July and in the East Colonial between April and June (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Habitat This species is marine, and is usually found in seas within 40 km of the shore, coming ashore on inshore islands or isolated areas of the mainland coast to breed, moult and rest (del Hoyo et al. 1992, Hockey et al. 2005). Breeding Breeding habitats range from flat, sandy islands with sparse or abundant vegetation, to steep rocky islands with practically no vegetation, although the former is preferred (Hockey et al. 2005). It is sometimes found close to the summit of islands and may move over a kilometre inland in search of breeding sites (Hockey 2001). Non-breeding At sea its distribution is restricted to the area influenced by the Benguela Current (Williams 1995). It usually feeds within 12 km of the coastline (Kemper et al. 2007). Diet Adults feed on pelagic schooling fish of 50-120mm in length (del Hoyo et al. 1992). Important prey includes sardines (Sardinops sagax), anchovies (Engraulis capensis), pelagic goby Sufflogobius bibarbatus, and herring (Etrumeus teres) (Crawford et al. 1985, del Hoyo et al. 1992). In some localities cephalopods also represent an important food source (Crawford et al. 1985). Juveniles tend to prey on fish larvae (Hockey 2001). Breeding site The nest is often built in burrows that are dug in guano or sand (Shelton et al. 1984, Hanes 2006 theithacajournal.com). Nests may also occur in depressions under large boulders or bushes (Hockey 2001). Nesting in open areas has become increasingly common owing to the past harvesting of guano (Hanes 2006 theithacajournal.com). At some sites artificial nest-burrows made from pipes and boxes sunken into the ground have been regularly used by the species (Crawford et al. 1994). The average age at first breeding is thought to be 4-6 years (Whittington et al. 2005).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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African penguins live in large colonies on rocky coastlines of southwest Africa. They can swim up to 20 kph and can travel 30 to 70 km during each trip. They spend the night gathered together on shore and much of the day feeding in the water.

Range depth: 130 (high) m.

Average depth: 30-60 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

  • Crawford, R., P. Barham, L. Underhill, L. Shannon, J. Coetzee, B. Dyer, T. Leshoro, L. Upfold. 2006. The influence of food availability on breeding success of african penguins Spheniscus demersus at Robben Island, South Africa. Biological Conservation, 132/1: 119-125.
  • Heath, R., R. Randall. 1989. Foraging ranges and movements of jackass penguins (Spheniscus demersus) established through radio telemetry. Journal of Zoology, 217: 367-379.
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African penguins are generally found within 40 kilometres of the coast, emerging onto rocky offshore islands to breed, rest and moult (2).
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

African penguins feed primarily on shoaling pelagic fish such as anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus), pilchards (Sardinops sagax), horse mackerel (Trachurus trachurus), and round herrings (Etrumeus whiteheadi), supplemented by squid and crustaceans. When on the hunt for prey, African genguins can reach a top speed of close to 20 km/h. The distance that African penguins have to travel to find food varies regionally.

Animal Foods: fish; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )

  • Randall, R., B. Randall. 1990. Cetaceans as predators of jackass penguins Spheniscus demersus: deductions based on behaviour. Marine Ornithology, 18: 9-12.
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Associations

Ecosystem Roles

African penguins are predators of small shoaling fish, including anchovies (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardines (Sardinops sagax). Up to 18 species of crustaceans are also prey to the African penguin.

Additionally, four types of blood parasites, Plasmodium relictum, P. elongatum, P. cathemerium, and Leucocytozoon tawaki have been recorded in Spheniscus demersus.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Jones, H., G. Shellam. 1999. Blood parasites in penguins, and their potential impact on conservation. Marine Ornithology, 27: 181-184.
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Predation

African penguins are on the endangered species list. Initially, their decline was due to the exploitation of eggs for food. Also, habitat alteration and disturbance associated with guano collection at breeding colonies contributed to their decline. These factors have now largely ceased, and the major current threats include competition with commercial fisheries for pelagic fish prey and oil pollution. Natural threats include competition with Cape Fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) for space at breeding colonies and for food resources, as well as predation by seals on penguins. Feral cats are also present and pose a problem at some colonies. African penguins also face predation of eggs and chicks by avian predators such as kelp gulls (Larus dominicanus) and sacred ibises (Threskiornis aethiopicus), while natural terrestrial predators, such as mongooses (Cynictis penicillata), genets (Genetta tigrina), and leopards (Panthera pardus) are also present at mainland colonies.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

African penguins are also called jackass penguins because they emit a loud, braying, donkey-like call to communicate. There are three types of calls used: bray, yell, and haw. The yell, or contact call, is used to defend a territory from another colony member. The bray, or display call, is used to attract mates and is used between partners in a colony. Penguins also perform displays that are used to establish nesting areas, help with partner/hatchling recognition and defense against intruders. The haw is used by partners when one is on land and the other is in the water.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic ; chemical

  • Cunningham, G., V. Strauss, P. Ryan. 2008. African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) can detect dimethyl sulphide, a prey-related odour. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 221: 3123-3127.
  • Thumser, N., M. Ficken. 1998. A Comparison of the Vocal Repertoires of Captive Spheniscus Penguins. Marine Ornithology, 26: 41-48.
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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

The average lifespan of Spheniscus demersus is 10 to 27 years in the wild, whereas an African penguin living in captivity generally has a longer lifespan. Other penguin species live for 15 to 20 years. Limits to aging are predation, human impact, and storm systems.

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
27 (high) years.

Range lifespan

Status: captivity:
25 (high) years.

Typical lifespan

Status: wild:
10 to 15 years.

  • Whittington, P., B. Dyer, N. Klages. 2000. Maximum Longevities of African Penguins Spheniscus Demersus Based on Banding Records. Marine Ornithology, 28: 81-82.
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Reproduction

African penguins are monogamous. During breeding, male and female penguins are most distinguishable from one another due to the pattern of colors.  African penguins dig shallow burrows under rocks, in sand or under sparse vegetation. They gather in breeding areas called 'rookeries' from September to February, where they lay two eggs. African penguin courtship rituals typically begin with the male projecting visual and auditory displays to attract a mate. Head-swinging motions usually refer to ownership of nest site, attracting females, and/or used as a warning for other males. The next stage is used to ensure a mutual bond is formed; which involves a harsh vocal call released while extending the neck and head upward. The final stage includes bowing, where one or both penguins duck the head while the bill points at the nest or at the other bird's feet.

Mating System: monogamous

African penguin pairs return to the same breeding sites year after year. Although breeding takes place throughout the year, nesting peaks in Namibia from November to December and in South Africa from March until May. Females typically lay two eggs, which are then incubated by both parents for about 40 days. All penguins have a patch of bare skin at the base of their bellies, called a "brood patch”, that helps the parent provide direct heat to incubate the eggs.

Breeding interval: African penguins breed once yearly.

Breeding season: Breeding occurs in Namibia from November to December and in South Africa from March until May.

Average eggs per season: 2.

Average time to hatching: 40 days.

Average birth mass: 106 g.

Range fledging age: 60 to 130 days.

Average time to independence: 80 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 4 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 5 years.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

After the eggs hatch, the pair feeds their young for about one month by regurgitating food into the hatchling's mouth. Hatchlings are then left alone in crèches, or groups, a characteristic common to bird species that breed in large colonies, while their parents forage for food. Young leave the colony once they develop their juvenile plumage in 2 to 4 months.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

  • Cooper, J. 1977. Moult of the black-footed penguin. International Zoo Yearbook, 18: 22-27.
  • Crawford, R., P. Barham, L. Underhill, L. Shannon, J. Coetzee, B. Dyer, T. Leshoro, L. Upfold. 2006. The influence of food availability on breeding success of african penguins Spheniscus demersus at Robben Island, South Africa. Biological Conservation, 132/1: 119-125.
  • Crawford, R., L. Underhill, J. Coetzee, T. Fairweather, L. Shannon, A. Wolfaardt. 2008. Influences of the abundance and distribution of prey on african penguins Spheniscus demersus off western South Africa. African Journal of Marine Science, 30: 167-175.
  • Shannon, L., R. Crawford. 1999. Management of the african penguin Spheniscus demersus-insights from modeling. Marine Ornithology, 27: 119-128.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Spheniscus demersus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 8 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CGATGATTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGATATTGGCACCCTTTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCAGGCATAGCTGGAACCGCCCTC---AGCCTGCTCATCCGCGCAGAACTCGGTCAACCCGGAACCCTCCTAGGAGAC---GACCAAATCTACAATGTAATTGTCACCGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTAATACCTATCATAATCGGAGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCACTTATA---ATCGGCGCCCCCGACATAGCATTTCCCCGCATAAATAACATAAGCTTTTGACTACTACCCCCCTCCTTCCTACTCCTACTAGCCTCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCCGGCACAGGATGAACCGTATACCCACCATTAGCAGGCAACCTAGCCCATGCCGGCGCATCAGTAGACCTA---GCCATTTTTTCACTCCACCTAGCAGGAATCTCCTCCATCCTAGGAGCAATCAACTTCATCACCACCGCCACTAACATAAAACCCCCAGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACCCCCCTGTTCGTATGATCCGTCCTTATCACAGCTGTCCTCCTACTACTCTCACTTCCCGTACTTGCTGCC---GGCATCACCATGCTACTAACAGACCGAAACCTAAACACCACCTTCTTCGATCCAGCTGGAGGGGGAGACCCAATCCTATACCAGCACCTCTTCTGATTCTTTGGTCACCCAGAAGTCTACATCCTAATTCTACCAGGCTTCGGAATCATCTCTCACGTAGTAGCATACTATGCAGGCAAAAAG---GAACCCTTTGGCTACATAGGCATAGTGTGAGCAATACTATCCATCGGATTCCTCGGCTTTATCGTATGAGCTCACCACATATTCACAGTCGGTATAGACGTAGACACCCGAGCGTACTTCACATCCGCCACCATAATTATCGCCATCCCAACTGGCATCAAAGTCTTCAGCTGACTA---GCTACCCTGCATGGAGGG---ACCATCAAATGAGACCCTCCAATACTATGAGCCCTAGGCTTTATTTTCCTCTTCACCATCGGAGGGTTAACGGGCATCGTCCTAGCAAACTCCTCACTGGACATTGCCCTACACGACACATACTATGTAGTTGCCCACTTCCACTATGTC---CTCTCAATAGGAGCTGTCTTTGCCATCCTAGCAGGATTCACCCACTGATTCCCATTATTCACAGGATACACCTTGCACACCACATGAGCCAAAGCCCACTTTGGAGTCATATTCACAGGTGTAAACCTAACCTTCTTCCCACAACACTTCTTAGGCCTAGCTGGCATGCCACGA---CGATATTCCGACTACCCAGACGCCTATACC---ATATGAAACACCATATCATCTATCGGCTCATTAATCTCAATAACTGCAGTAATCATACTCATATTTATCATCTGAGAAGCCTTCACATCAAAACGAAAAGTC---CTACAACCCGAACTAACTGCCACCAAC
-- end --

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spheniscus demersus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
A2ace+3ce+4ace

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Crawford, R., Kemper, J., Pichegru, L., Simmons, R., Underhill, L. & Wanless, R.

Justification
This species is classified as Endangered because it is undergoing a very rapid population decline, probably as a result of commercial fisheries and shifts in prey populations. This trend currently shows no sign of reversing, and immediate conservation action is required to prevent further declines.


History
  • 2012
    Endangered
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Current Listing Status Summary

Status: Endangered
Date Listed: 10/29/2010
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10) 
Where Listed: Entire


Population detail:

Population location: Entire
Listing status: E

For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Spheniscus demersus , see its USFWS Species Profile

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African penguins are classified as vulnerable. Since the early 1900s, the African penguin population has been in decline. The initial decline was due to commercial sales of eggs and disturbance of nesting birds. Presently, the species is threatened by oil pollution.

US Migratory Bird Act: no special status

US Federal List: endangered

CITES: appendix ii

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: endangered

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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1). Listed on Appendix II of CITES (3), and Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or Bonn Convention) (4).
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Population

Population
The Namibian population was estimated at c.5,000 breeding pairs in 2008, and the South African population at c.21,000 breeding pairs in 2009 (R. Crawford in litt. 2010), thus, the figure used here is 52,000 mature individuals, roughly equating to 75,000-80,000 individuals in total.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Population declines are largely attributed to food shortages, resulting from large catches of fish by commercial purse-seine fisheries, and environmental fluctuations. A decrease in foraging effort at the St Croix Island colony following the establishment of a 20 km no-take zone provides some support for this theory (Pichegru et al. 2010). An eastward shift in sardine and anchovy populations is also blamed, with the biomass of these species near the largest breeding islands west of Cape Town falling sharply since 2002 (R. Crawford per Koenig 2007). The abundance of these prey species is known to influence breeding success, which may often be too low to maintain population equilibrium (Crawford et al. 2006). Human disturbance and egg-collecting appear to have been additional factors in the species's declines (Ellis et al. 1998). Tourists may cause nest-burrows to collapse, and their presence in large numbers may deter young birds from breeding. Mortality from oil spills is serious and may increase if proposed development of harbours close to colonies proceeds. In addition, most of the population is confined to just two areas, both near to major shipping ports (Nel and Whittington 2003). There has been a dramatic increase in the number of birds oiled since 1990: two individual oil spills (in 1994 and 2000) have killed 30,000 individuals, despite successful rehabilitation programmes (Nel and Whittington 2003). In addition, breeding success on Robben island fell to 0.23 chicks per pair in 2000, compared with an average of 0.62 ±0.19 over the other 15 years from 1989 to 2004 (Crawford et al. 2006). Without continuing rehabilitation, the population is set to decrease 17-51% over the next 20 years (Nel and Whittington 2003). However, rehabilitation does not necessarily prevent problems in the years after a spill. During 2001-2005, pairs involving at least one bird rehabilitated from the oil spill in 2000 achieved lower fledging success (43%), mostly owing to higher mortality in older chicks, compared to unaffected pairs (61%) and those involving at least one bird affected by a previous oil spill (71%) (Barham et al. 2007). This may indicate physiological or behavioural problems that reduce the parents' ability to meet the food requirements of older chicks, perhaps owing to the toxicity of the heavy oil in the 2000 spill, or the effects of prolonged captivity and time between oiling and washing (Barham et al. 2007). Guano collection has historically been a major cause of disturbance at many colonies and its removal has deprived penguins of nest-burrowing sites, causing birds to nest on open ground where they are more vulnerable to heat stress resulting in the abandonment of nests, flooding of nests by rain and increased predation (Hockey et al. 2005). The cape fur seal Arctocephalus pusillus competes with penguins for food, displaces them from breeding sites and is a periodic predator. Limited mortality in fishing nets may increase if gill-nets are set near colonies (Ellis et al. 1998). Recently the potentially major effects of individual storms on breeding colonies at certain sites has been highlighted (de Villiers 2002). Sharks take birds at sea and Kelp Gulls Larus dominicanus and feral cats prey on eggs and chicks at colonies (Crawford 1998).

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The population of African penguins has declined and it is estimated that its current size is a mere 10 percent of what it was at the turn of the 20th Century. Originally the fall in numbers was the result of the over-collection of eggs for food, and disturbance caused by the collection of guano for fertiliser. Today, however, depleted fish stocks due to over-fishing, and the risk of oil pollution are the most pertinent threats to the survival of this species (5); a recent oil spill affected around 40 percent of the population. Predation by Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) and competition with them for food and breeding sites, as well as shark predation, has also had severe effects on population numbers (2).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. CMS Appendix II. In South Africa, all breeding localities are national parks, nature reserves or otherwise protected. Collection of guano and eggs is prohibited within penguin colonies (Harrison et al. 1997). Oiled birds are rehabilitated with great success (Nel and Whittington 2003). More than 80% of birds admitted for rehabilitation are returned successfully to the wild (Nel and Whittington 2003). In one study it was found that the age at first breeding of five oiled and rehabilitated birds did not differ significantly from populations on Robben and Dassen Islands (Whittington et al. 2005). Since 1995 there has been a captive breeding programme at an aquarium in Cape Town, where around six birds are bred annually, and a total of 14 have been released nearby (Lahana 2003). This programme has contributed to public awareness and education (Lahana 2003). Research into feeding behaviour involving the use of satellite-tracking and transponders is ongoing (Koenig 2007). On Dyer Island, the effects of guano collection in the past are being mitigated by the installation of small fiberglass igloos as nest-sites, with 200 put in place by 2006 and an eventual target of 2,000, roughly one for every pair in the colony (Hanes 2006). These artificial nest-sites are used by pairs very soon after installation, and if the programme is successful it will be expanded to other colonies in South Africa (Hanes 2006 theithacajournal.com). A research project into the potential positive impacts of small marine no-take zones surrounding breeding colonies is underway, with results in the first year showing a decrease in adult foraging effort (Pichegru et al. 2010, L. Pichegru in litt. 2010).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor population trends at all colonies (Ellis et al. 1998). Continue and maintain the SANCCOB oil spill rehabilitation centre. Initiate research into the impacts of fishing and predation (Ellis et al. 1998). Protect Namibian breeding localities (Ellis et al. 1998). Develop plans to conserve pelagic fish resources (Harrison et al. 1997), namely through management of the purse-seine fishery (Crawford et al. 2006). Prevent oilspills from illegal cleaning of ship tanks (Harrison et al. 1997). Eliminate feral cats from Bird, Dassen and Robben Islands and implement measures to preclude the introduction of rats to any colonies (Ellis et al. 1998, Crawford et al. 2006). Investigate reintroduction techniques (Ellis et al. 1998) and establish captive breeding populations to assist with future reintroduction or supplementation efforts. Assess whether climate change is a factor in the shifting of prey populations (Koenig 2007). Consider the idea of establishing no-fishing zones around breeding islands (Koenig 2007, L. Underhill per Koenig 2007). Consider translocating birds in reaction to shifts in food availability (L. Underhill per Koenig 2007). Maintain suitable breeding habitat (Crawford et al. 2006). Control the spread of disease (Crawford et al. 2006). Establish and then monitor 'trial colonies' close to current concentrations of food resources (R. Wanless in litt. 2010).

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Conservation

The African penguin is protected by its listing on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) (3), and on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (4). All of the breeding areas in South Africa are protected as National Parks or Nature Reserves and the collection of guano or eggs is no longer permitted. The recovery of rescued oiled birds has also been shown to be successful. Populations need further monitoring and the possibility of conserving fish stocks is under investigation, amongst other measures, if the future of Africa's only penguin is to be secured (2).
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no real negative economic effects of the African penguin. They do not eat enough fish to be detrimental to the local fishing industry.

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

African penguins provide a substantial source of guano. Guano was excavated from rookeries, processed, and made into fertilizer, which was then sold around the world. Penguin skins have been used as gloves. Guano is now forbidden in fertilizer, which has reduced the economic importance for humans. African penguins also benefit humans by ecotourism. They are a species that humans can get up close to and watch how they interact with their environment. The primary viewing site of African penguins is the colony at False Bay in Simons Town, South Africa. This colony has over 2000 penguins. African penguins are the most common penguin found in zoos due to their size and temperature requirements, which are easy to maintain.

Positive Impacts: ecotourism

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Wikipedia

African penguin

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the jackass penguin and black-footed penguin is a species of penguin, confined to southern African waters. It is also widely known as the "jackass" penguin for its donkey-like bray, although several related species of South American penguins produce the same sound. Like all extant penguins it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat. Adults weigh on average 2.2–3.5 kg (4.9–7.7 lb) and are 60–70 cm (24–28 in) tall. It has distinctive pink patches of skin above the eyes and a black facial mask; the body upperparts are black and sharply delineated from the white underparts, which are spotted and marked with a black band. This pink gland above their eyes helps them to cope with changing temperatures. When the temperature gets hotter, the body of the African penguin sends more blood to these glands to be cooled by the air surrounding it. This then causes the gland to turn a darker shade of pink.[2]

The African penguin is a pursuit diver and feeds primarily on fish and squid. Once extremely numerous, the African penguin is declining due to a combination of threats and is classified as endangered. It is a charismatic species and is popular with tourists.

Taxonomy[edit]

The African penguin was one of the many bird species originally described by Linnaeus in the landmark 1758 10th edition of his Systema Naturae, where he grouped it with the wandering albatross on the basis of its bill and nostril morphology and gave it the name Diomedea demersa.[3]

The African penguin is a banded penguin, placed in the genus Spheniscus. The other banded penguins are the African penguin's closest relatives, and are all found mainly in the Southern Hemisphere: the Humboldt penguin and Magellanic penguins found in southern South America, and the Galápagos penguin found in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. All are similar in shape, colour and behaviour.

The African penguin is a member of the class Aves, and the order Sphenisciformes. It belongs to the penguin family Spheniscidae. It is classified as Spheniscus demersus, which is somewhat descriptive about its behaviour when analysed with etymology.

Etymology[edit]

Penguin colony Betty's Bay

The genus to which the African penguin belongs to, Spheniscus, derives from the Ancient Greek word sphen, which means wedge. This refers to their streamlined body shape. Its species name, demersus, is a Latin word for "plunging".[4]

Description[edit]

African penguin diving

African penguins grow to 60–70 cm (24–28 in) tall and weigh between 2.2–3.5 kg (4.9–7.7 lb).[5] They have a black stripe and black spots on the chest, the pattern of spots being unique for every penguin, like human fingerprints. They have pink glands above their eyes, which are used for thermoregulation. The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands so it may be cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink.[6] This species exhibits slight sexual dimorphism: the males are larger than the females and have larger beaks.[7] Juveniles do not possess the bold, delineated markings of the adult but instead have dark upperparts that vary from greyish-blue to brown; the pale underparts lack both spots and the band. The beak is more pointed than that of the Humboldt. Their distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage called countershading– white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the dark water. African penguins look similar and are thought to be related to the Humboldt, Magellanic, and Galapagos penguins.[8] African penguins have a very recognizable appearance with a thick band of black that is in the shape of an upside-down horseshoe. They have black feet and unique black spots that vary in size and shape per penguin. Magellanic penguins share a similar characteristic that often confuses the two, the similarity is a double bar on the throat and chest. These penguins have the nickname of "jackass penguin" which comes from the loud noises they make.

Distribution[edit]

The African penguin is found on the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa.[1] It is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa and its presence gave name to the Penguin Islands.

Two colonies were established by penguins in the 1980s on the mainland near Cape Town, namely Boulders Beach near Simon's Town and Stony Point in Betty's Bay. Mainland colonies probably only became possible in recent times due to the reduction of predator numbers, although the Betty's Bay colony has been attacked by leopards.[9] The only other mainland colony is in Namibia, but it is not known when it was established.

Boulders Beach is a tourist attraction, for the beach, swimming and the penguins.[10][11] The penguins will allow people to approach them as close as a metre.

There are also a few colonies spread throughout the world. However they are few and far between and are a very rare sight for those actively looking for them.

Population[edit]

Roughly 4 million penguins existed at the beginning of the 19th century. Of the 1.5-million population of African penguins estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th century. African penguin populations, which breed in Namibia and South Africa, have declined by 95 percent since pre-industrial times.[12]

The total population fell to 200,000 in 2000. In 2010, the number was estimated to be only at 55,000. If this decline is not halted, the African penguin is expected to be extinct within 15 years.[13]

5,000 breeding pairs were estimated to live in Namibia in 2008; in 2009, about 21,000 pairs were estimated to live in South Africa, with the majority of those numbers on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay.[1]

Biology[edit]

Diet[edit]

African penguins forage in the open sea, where they pursue pelagic fish such as pilchards and anchovies (e.g. Engraulis capensis),[14] and marine invertebrates such as squid and small crustaceans.[15] Penguins normally swim within 20 km of the shore.[5] A penguin may consume up to 540 grams of prey every day,[16] but this may increase to over 1 kg when raising older chicks.[15]

Due to the collapse of a commercial pilchard fishery in 1960, the African penguin eats anchovies. Although it keeps the penguins alive, it is not ideal due to the low concentration of fat and protein. Their diet changes throughout the year and it is believed that their aspect of breeding help the penguins maintain their population size. Upon having hatchlings, although the parent penguins are protective of their hatchlings, the parents will not sacrifice their appetite for their children. If even in a situation where food is scarce, adult parents will let their children starve before they let themselves starve.

Breeding[edit]

The African penguin is monogamous.[4] It breeds in colonies, and pairs return to the same site each year. The African penguin has an extended breeding season,[4] with nesting usually peaking from March to May in South Africa, and November and December in Namibia.[14] A clutch of two eggs are laid either in burrows dug in guano, or scrapes in the sand under boulders or bushes. Incubation is undertaken equally by both parents for about 40 days. At least one parent guards the chicks until about 30 days, whereafter the chick joins a crèche with other chicks, and both parents head out to sea to forage each day.

Chicks fledge at 60 to 130 days, the timing depending on environmental factors such as quality and availability of food. The fledged chick then go to sea on their own and return to their natal colony after a lengthy time period of 12–22 months to molt into adult plumage.[4]

When penguins molt, they are unable to forage as their new feathers are not waterproof yet; therefore they fast over the entire molting period, which in African penguins takes about 20 days.[4]

African penguin females remain fertile for 10 years. African penguins spend most of their lives at sea until it comes time for them to lay their eggs. Due to the high predation by larger mammals on the mainland, the penguins will go offshore to an island for protection from mammals and natural challenges. African penguins usually breed during the African winter when temperatures are cooler. Although it is winter, the heat on the island is still scorching, therefore the penguins dig holes in the layers of guano and incubate the eggs there. Due to humans, though, the amount of guano on the land has significantly dropped. To compensate, penguins dig holes in the sand. Although effective, the sand gets hot and fills with water during rain easily. The penguins spend three weeks on land to provide for their offspring. The eggs are three to four times bigger than hen’s eggs. Parents usually feed hatchlings during dusk or dawn.

Predation[edit]

The average lifespan of an African penguin is 10 to 27 years in the wild, and possibly longer in captivity.[17] However, the African penguin may often fall to predators.

Predators in the ocean include sharks, Cape fur seals and, on occasion, orcas. Land-based enemies include mongooses, genets, domestic cats, and the kelp gull which steals their eggs and newborn chicks.[18]

Conservation[edit]

The main project in place to protect the African penguin is conducted through the Baywatch Marine Conservation Project. They are the only organization with a permit to conduct research on St Croix Island, the largest African penguin colony. They are part funded by Raggy Charters and were founded by Lloyd Edwards of Port Elizabeth.[citation needed]

Threats[edit]

African penguin at the New England Aquarium
(video) African penguin swims at an aquarium in Tokyo
Background

Commercial fisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce.[12] Global climate change is also affecting these penguins' prey abundance.

As recently as the mid-20th century, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and were still being collected for sale. Unfortunately, the practice was to smash eggs found a few days prior to gathering, to ensure that only fresh ones were sold. This added to the drastic decline of the penguin population around the Cape coast, a decline which was hastened by the removal of guano from islands for use as fertiliser, eliminating the burrowing material used by penguins. Penguins remain susceptible to pollution of their habitat by petrochemicals from spills, shipwrecks and cleaning of tankers while at sea.

Oil Spills[edit]

2000 MV Treasure crisis[edit]

Disaster struck on 23 June 2000, when the iron ore tanker MV Treasure sank between Robben Island and Dassen Island, South Africa. It released 1,300 tons of fuel oil, causing an unprecedented coastal bird crisis,[19] oiling 19,000 adult penguins at the height of the best breeding season on record for this vulnerable species. The oiled birds were brought to an abandoned train repair warehouse in Cape Town to be cared for. An additional 19,500 un-oiled penguins were removed from Dassen Island and other areas before they became oiled, and were released about 800 kilometres east of Cape Town, near Port Elizabeth. This gave workers enough time to clean up the oiled waters and shores before the birds could complete their long swim home (which took the penguins between one and three weeks). Some of the penguins were named and radio-tracked as they swam back to their breeding grounds. Tens of thousands of volunteers descended upon Cape Town to help with the rescue and rehabilitation process, which was overseen by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), and took more than three months to complete. This was the largest animal rescue event in history; more than 91% of the penguins were successfully rehabilitated and released - an amazing feat that could not have been accomplished without such a tremendous international response.[20]

Due to the positive outcome of African penguins being raised in captivity after tragedies, such as the Treasure oil spill, the species is considered a good "candidate for a captive-breeding programme which aims to release offspring into the wild"; however, worries about the spread of new strains of avian malaria is a major concerning factor in the situation.[21]

Bringing the birds inland led to the exposure of parasites and vector species such as mosquitoes, specifically avian malaria which has caused 27% of the rehabilitated penguins deaths annually.[22]

1994 MV Apollo Sea disaster[edit]

African penguin casualties were significant following the sinking of the MV Apollo Sea and subsequent oil slick in 1994. 10,000 penguins were collected and cleaned, of which less than half survived.

Conservation status[edit]

The African penguin is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African–Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies. In November 2013 the African penguin was listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.[23] In September 2010 it was listed as endangered under the US Endangered Species Act.[12]

Mediation efforts[edit]

Many organisations such as SANCCOB, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, SAMREC and Raggy Charters with the Penguin Research Fund in Port Elizabeth are working to halt the decline of the African penguin. Measures include monitoring population trends, hand-rearing and releasing abandoned chicks, establishing artificial nests and proclaiming marine reserves in which fishing is prohibited.[1]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d BirdLife International (2013). "Spheniscus demersus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a-z animals. "The African Penguin". a-z animals. Retrieved 2013-07-09. 
  3. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae, Secundum Classes, Ordines, Genera, Species, cum Characteribus, Differentiis, Synonymis, Locis. Tomus I. Editio decima, reformata (in Latin). Holmiae: (Laurentii Salvii). p. 132. 
  4. ^ a b c d e http://www.penguins.cl/african-penguins.htm
  5. ^ a b Sinclair, Ian; Hockey, Phil; Tarboton, Warwick; Ryan, Peter (2011). Sasol Birds Of South Africa. Struik. p. 22. ISBN 9781770079250. 
  6. ^ Mahard, Tyler (2012). "The Black-footed Penguin Spheniscus demersus". Wildlife Monthly. Retrieved 2012-11-20. 
  7. ^ "African Penguin (Speheniscus demersus)". Dyer Island Conservation Trust. Archived from the original on 26 October 2009. 
  8. ^ "African Penguin". Retrieved 2013-01-30. 
  9. ^ "The African Penguin". Bettysbay.info. 2010-04-08. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  10. ^ "Table Mountain National Park". SANParks. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  11. ^ "Boulders Beach, Swimming with Penguins - Swimming with Penguins in South Africa". Goafrica.about.com. 2010-06-14. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  12. ^ a b c [1] Vanishing African Penguin, Threatened by Climate Change and Fishing, Wins Protections
  13. ^ "African Penguin | Endangered | Cape Town". Globalpost.com. 2011-06-19. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  14. ^ a b "African penguin videos, photos and facts - Spheniscus demersus". ARKive. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  15. ^ a b "The African Penguin Simons Town". Simonstown.com. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  16. ^ "Betty's Bay African Penguin Colony". Viewoverberg.com. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  17. ^ "ADW: Spheniscus demersus: INFORMATION". Animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu. 2010-02-01. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  18. ^ "African penguin". Neaq.org. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  19. ^ http://www.sanccob.co.za/?m=2&s=5&idkey=625
  20. ^ ""Jackass Penguins Freed after Rehab", National Geographic's Video News, June 17, 2009". News.nationalgeographic.com. 2010-10-28. Retrieved 2012-03-30. 
  21. ^ ,Barham, P. J., L. G. Underhill, R. J. M. Crawford, R. Altewegg, T. M. Leshoro, D. A. Bolton, B. M. Dyer, and L. Upfold. 2008. The efficacy of hand-rearing penguin chicks: evidence from African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) orphaned in the Treasure oil spill. Bird Conservation International 18: 144-152
  22. ^ Grim, C., M. K. Cranfield, T. F. McCutchan, E.V. der Merwe, N. Parsons, M. Sullivan. 2003. Plasmodium juxtanucleare associated with mortality in black-footed penguins (Spheniscus demersus) admitted to a rehabilitation center. Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine 23 [4]: 250-255.
  23. ^ "Spheniscus demersus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN. 2013. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
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