Penguin Free Fall

Boulders Beach is a beloved viewing spot of all visitors to Cape Town, to see an extraordinary colony of wild penguins waddle stiff legged from the Indian ocean onto their dedicated beach set among granite boulders.

It comes as a shock to learn that these endearing birds face a daily battle for survival – and their numbers are in precipitous decline.
If we don’t protect the African penguin before its flightless plummet catches up with that other bird of extinction, then we risk losing far more than a comical, endemic bird.

African penguins are unique to southern Africa. And highly endangered. Their numbers are plummeting.
The last breeding pair disappeared from Lambert’s Bay in 2006, and  colonies at other locations are hanging on by their webbed toes.
Boulder’s colony has dropped from 1,054 breeding pairs to 444. Robben Island from 8,000 to 1,800 and Dassen Island from 25,000 to 4,000  within the past ten years.

The species’ free fall is the result of a range of pressures … overfishing, climate change, pollution.
They may seem an unlikely candidate for ”canary in the coal mine” status but these sea birds are critical indicators of ocean health.

 Here’s what we can do …

  • Follow the SASSI guidelines when ordering fish at a restaurant. SMS 079 499 8795 or visit to see what’s ”approved”
  • Visit the colonies – at Boulders near Simon’s Town or Stony Point near Betty’s bay. One estimate of the ‘life earnings” of a penguin is set at US$ 1 250
  • Sponsor an artificial nest in a breeding colony-
  • Support SANCCOB that has reared & released over 2, 000 chicks over the past 5 years –
  • Avoid buying or eating farmed fish. About seven kilograms of wild sardines & anchovies are consumed to produce one kilogram of farmed fish
  • Don’t buy dog food made from fish meal (a huge bulk of the sardine catch is ground into fish meal for dog food)
  • Help reduce litter – pick up discarded plastic along the shore
  • Encourage more severe penalties for pumping contaminated bilge water into the ocean
  • Demand accountability from the authorities/your local councillors
  • Make your voice heard … above the Africa penguin’s diminishing donkey brays, which is why they are also called Jackass penguins …

Acknowledgement to Cheryl-Samantha Owen for her article ‘‘ So Long, and thanks for taking all the fish” in the December 2012 edition of Africa Geographic.
What else you can do is subscribe to Africa Geographic. It’s an excellent monthly publication that fosters an awareness of wildlife, conservation, ecotravel, indigenous cultures & the general environment.

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