Penguin Awareness Day 2019

Jackson Werts
18 January 2019

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With the approach of January 20th, the conservation community is celebrating Penguin Awareness Day. Before I get into penguin awareness, I would like to just explain the importance of all Awareness. Awareness is the knowledge or perception of a situation or fact. Why is awareness needed? Because, without it ignorance persists, and being unaware of a situation has time and time again lead to many terrible situations that could have been avoided. Awareness movements have helped with many significant issues like the HIV/AIDs crisis, breast cancer movement, and the MeToo movement. I too have been moved by movements concerning endangered animals like the white rhino. So, with Penguin Awareness Day, people just like me, and hopefully you, are trying to help these animals have a brighter future.

Right now, I would like to spread a little awareness for these fluffy flightless birds. I hope to stir compassion in your hearts by explaining a little bit about penguins and their predicament. As you probably know, penguins are flightless birds that swim underwater and are usually pictured in Antarctica skating around on the ice. Why have they been classified as endangered by the IUCN? Well on top of disease and natural predations by orcas, seals, sharks and gulls, we have man-made impacts such as climate change, habitat destruction, pollution and more. There are many different species of penguin spread over the southern hemisphere, but my main concern lies closer to home, the African penguin.

South Africa is home to many mainland and offshore African penguin colonies. These birds are in danger of future extinction; issues like overfishing, human interaction, and global warming have had an immense impact on the survival of the species. From the mid-1900s to the 2000s population numbers fell by 90%. Then from 2001 to 2012 penguin numbers plummeted from 56,000 to 19,000 pairs. Today the rapid population drop has slowed but not stopped. Organizations like BirdlifeSA. SANCCOB (South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds), Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Tenikwa Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre and SAMREC (South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre) have been doing their best to slow this decrease, but they can only do so much. Local nature reserves and national parks also play important roles acting as sanctuaries in which the penguins can thrive. But with oil spills, plastic pollution, and overfishing it is extremely difficult for these penguins to flourish.

As you can see, African penguin conservation is complicated; there are many layers to the onion and thus must be conserved and tackled with a multi-faceted approach that deals with the various issues as a whole. That is why, awareness of just the plight of the penguin simply will not do because their survival is so deeply linked to the anti-pollution and clean oceans movements, as well as awareness and understanding of over-fishing, alien species, responsible tourism and I’m sure many more I haven’t named. Penguins, as all living creature, make part of a balanced ecosystem in which every constituent serves a role and when one is removed, the systems get weaker and weaker until it all falls apart.

What you can do to help? You don’t have to be a political activist to help. Honestly, the best thing you can do is support local conservation efforts and spread the word; now that you know, tell others about their struggles. By visiting penguin sanctuaries and reserves you help generate revenue and awareness in their favour. In the least, take a few minutes to read about African penguins and get to know them. These magnificent birds’ numbers are dwindling, so my advice is to visit them, take the whole family, and in this way, help contribute to their survival.

Interested in learning more about penguins, then visit the sites listed below.