African Penguins? Yes, Please!

African penguins are found in South Africa, where they live in colonies of anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand. These small, flightless birds average two feet in height and average a weight of eight pounds. In the wild, they live anywhere from ten to fifteen years, and remain in the same colony for the duration of their life! There are over twenty penguin colonies in South Africa, the most popular of these (for tourists) being Boulders Beach in Simons Town. If you are a penguin lover, a visit to one of these colonies should definitely be added to your bucket list!

Like many animals, African penguins need our help to continue surviving and thriving in the wild! Fortunately, South Africa is home to an incredible organization working toward that goal. The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) works to reverse the decline of seabird populations through the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of ill, injured, abandoned and oiled seabirds – especially endangered species like the African penguin. SANCCOB has a location on each coast of South Africa, where they will take in and care for any penguins that are in need of their help.

There are a few programs being run by compassionate people to work toward the protection of African Penguins, three of which are run by SANCCOB. The first of these is the Chick Rearing project, where abandoned and weak chicks are bolstered and chick eggs are reared. Since this project began in 2006, more than 4000 healthy penguin chicks have been released back into the wild. The other two notable projects run by SANCCOB are the Stony Point Penguin Ranger Project and the Burgher’s Walk Restoration Project. Stony Point is one of the penguin colonies in the Western Cape of South Africa, and the Penguin Rangers there play an important role in the care of the penguins. These rangers look after the penguins at Stony Point and ensure that no destruction happens to their natural habitat, as well as assist with rehabilitation and rescuing of penguins in need. The Burgher’s Walk project is a plan, at Boulders Beach, to protect penguins from members of the public, other animals, and being hit by cars on the road. Like the Stony Point project, this one also includes the training of Penguin Rangers to protect and care for the penguins at Boulders Beach.

There are a few other programs which work to protect these birds, including the Species Survival Plan, the US Endangered Species Act, the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Program, and the Biodiversity Management Plan for African Penguins. As you can see, although these birds face some challenges, there are plenty of people and organizations working to care for them!

African penguins’ population decline is due to several factors, most notable food shortages, oil spills, disturbances to their natural habitat, and climate change. Fortunately, there is plenty that we can do to help them! The most adventurous and hands-on way to help is to go volunteer at SANCCOB! They do require volunteers to commit to spending at least six weeks there, but, if you’re able to, it will be the best six weeks of your life! Volunteers work hands on with the penguins and other sea birds daily, and learn how to handle, feed, and medicate the birds. While volunteering, you will also get to go on a release, which means that you’ll take whichever penguins are healthy enough to go back into the wild back to the colonies which they came from.

If going to South Africa is a little too unrealistic, there are plenty other ways in which you can help. SANCCOB relies on donations to keep their doors open to these sick and injured birds, and there are some fun ways in which you can donate. One fun option is to adopt a penguin! There are a few different price levels to pick from, and plenty of penguins to pick from. You’ll receive a certificate of adoption with your name on it as well as a photo of your penguin! Another fun way is to attend a fundraising event, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, hold your own! The Greensboro Science Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, for example, holds a “Tuxedo Trot” every May. The “Tuxedo Trot” is a 5k that is completely penguin themed, and all of the proceeds go toward SANCCOB. Other animal related organizations in the states have held fundraisers for SANCCOB over time, and it would be very easy to hold your own!

There are a few decisions that we can make in our day-to-day lives which can also make a difference. First, keep our trash out of the oceans and off of the beaches. Quite a few penguins end up sick due to trash that they have been interested in and decided to eat. If there was no trash floating around for them to feast on, their diet would be back to just fish, as it is supposed to be. Second, be conscious of where we are commercial fishing, or where our fish is coming from. When humans take tons of fish out of the ocean in areas where penguins are living, this decreases the amount of fish available to the penguins and makes it challenging for them to find food. Now, I know that both of these decisions are slightly more specific for residents of South Africa, but they also benefit all seabirds and are good habits to get into no matter where you are living. A third decision that we can make which will make a difference is to focus on making eco-friendly choices in our day-to-day lives. Global warming affects all animals, and for the African penguins it can make it quite a challenge to find fish to eat. This is due to the rising surface temperature of the ocean, which causes fewer fish to be within reach for the penguins.

Sources: SANCCOB, Public Radio International, ICUN Red List of Endangered Species, Our Endangered World, Bird Life