On World Penguin Day we take a look at those adorable flightless birds featured in so many animated films and documentaries, and which live mostly in the Southern Hemisphere. It is only the Galapagos penguin that is found in the Northern Hemisphere.
As with so many species, this birds are under threat with our very own African penguin much reduced in numbers. According to Sanbi, ‘the African penguin has experienced rapid population declines over the past century as a result of overexploitation for food, habitat modification of nesting sites, oil spillages, and competition for food resources with commercial fishing’.
Here are some interesting facts from Wikipedia and www.sanbi.org:
Penguins fall under the order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae are aquatic, flightless birds.
The largest species are emperor penguins (1.1m tall) and weigh around 35kg.
The smallest is the little blue penguin (also known as the fairy penguin) which is around 40cm tall.
Larger species are found in cold climates, while smaller penguins are found in the warmer climates.
When penguins dive they can reach speeds from 6 to 12 km/h.
They form monogamous pairs for a breeding season, though the rate the same pair recouples varies drastically. The emperor and the king species, lay only one egg, while the smaller ones lay two eggs at a time.
According to Wikipedia, in prehistoric times, some species were as tall and weighed the same as a human being and one of these species was found 2000 km south of the equator.
Our African Penguin is listed Endangered by the IUCN Red List and it is listed under Appendix II of the CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species). In South Africa, it is further listed as a protected species under the National Environment Management: Biodiversity Act (No. 10 of 2004).
Its genus name Spheniscus is from ancient Greek – sphen – wedge. This refers to their ‘streamlined body shape’. The species name demersus is Latin meaning plunging or sinking, in reference to its diving.
These cute little waddlers, however, are highly specialised for a life at sea and can reach speeds of up to 20 km/h, cruise at 4–7 km/h and dive down to 130m.
They mainly live on islands off our African coast -from Hollams Bird Island, off the Namibian coast, to Algoa Bay on our eastern Cape coast. Two colonies are found on our mainland – Betty’s Bay and Boulders Beach in the Cape Town area.
Sadly, according to Sanbi, ‘it is estimated that breeding population in South Africa has experienced a 95 percent decline in six years from 69 000 pairs in 2001 to 20 000 pairs in 2011. As a result it is projected that the African species may become extinct within the next 15 years’.
Here are some other penguin species: