African Penguin Day

Meaghan O'Neil
15 April 2020
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Black and white photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels

Hooray for African penguins! They're the only penguin species to reside in Africa, specifically along the coasts of South Africa and part of Namibia. You can also find them in many international zoos, since their warmer habitat is easier to recreate in other parts of the globe.

Courting couples squawk to each other, sounding quite a bit like donkeys. It must be a good way for them to communicate, because African penguin pairs stay together their whole lives, or at least for a decade. They also groom each other, keeping feathers aligned and picking off parasites.

The females will lay two eggs after breeding into nests made from guano. The rocky landscape doesn't allow for nests made of sticks and leaves. Both she and the male will incubate the eggs, using a special feather-free pouch over their feet to keep them warm. Only one egg usually hatches, though. Once it does, the parents take turns feeding the chick until it's big enough to join a separate group of penguin chicks. These chicks form their own small colony (or crèche) away from the adults until they're grown, and they rejoin the colony to moult into their adult plumage.

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Parent and chick, photo by Greg Newman from Pixabay

African penguins' numbers are low and they are considered to be an endangered species wit only 2% of its historical population size left. Humans have stolen their eggs and guano (destroying their nests) as food and fertilizer for decades. Laws are in place to protect them now, but those interactions reduced the species dramatically. Unfortunately, commercialized fishing is a newer threat, as it diminishes their food source of anchovies, sardines, and herring. Water pollution from oil spills doesn't help, either.

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Photo by Robert Pastryk from Pixabay

Fun facts about African penguins:

  • South African penguins moult once a year for about 20 days. They can't swim or eat during this time, but they make up for it later!
  • They keep cool in warmer temperatures due to the pink area around their eyes. When it's hot out, their blood moves to that area to cool down, since that part of their skin is exposed to air.
  • They can swim up to 20kph while hunting for fish, and they can dive as deep as 100m. under water. 

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