The African penguin is native to South Africa & Namibia (nesting), with a wider foraging distribution. Most easily seen in the wild at Boulders Bay or Betties Bay.
They are generally found within 40 kilometres of the coast, emerging onto rocky offshore islands or sandy beaches to breed, rest and moult.
Our penguins are mostly fed sprat, but also capelin, squid, sardines, pilchards and anchovies occasionally.
In the wild they primarily eat small fish, particularly anchovies and sardines.
Adapted for its aquatic lifestyle, the African penguin can reach speeds of 20 kilometres per hour in the water and travel from 30 to 70 kilometres in a single trip. Average dives last for 2.5 minutes, reaching depths of 60 metres. Penguins have small muscles at the base of each feather that enable the feathers to be held tightly against the body whilst in water, forming a waterproof layer. African penguins come ashore to moult these feathers over 20 days between November and January in South Africa and between April and May in Namibia. A pink patch (above the eye) allows these penguins to regulate body temperature, and flushes pink in hot weather.
African penguins are colonial breeders, with pairs returning to the same site year after year. Unusually, there is no fixed breeding season, although nesting peaks in Namibia between November and December and in South Africa between March and May. Nests are situated in burrows or depressions under boulders and bushes, where they will receive some protection from the potentially harsh temperatures. The clutch size of the African penguin is usually two, and both adults take it in turns to incubate the eggs for a period of about 40 days; penguins have a bare patch of skin on the lower abdomen (known as the ‘brood patch’) which allows greater transfer of heat to the eggs. Following hatching, the adults will continue to guard the chicks until they are about 30 days old, regurgitating food straight from their stomach after foraging trips. The chicks then lose their fluffy ‘down’ feathers after 8-10 weeks, develop silver/grey plumage which lasts until around 6 months and then finally moult to full adult plumage at 12-18 months.
Human activities such as overfishing and global warming has massively declined the number of fish stocks that the African penguins rely on for food. There is now a total of 18,000 breeding pairs left in the wild, a dramatic fall in numbers since 1900 when there were an estimated 2 million birds.
Living Coasts has supported a ‘chick bolstering’ project based at SANCCOB’s seabird centre in South Africa through dedication of staff time, financial backing and promotion, as well as the ongoing rescue and rehabilitation of injured adults or abandoned chicks. Several members of staff, including Lois Rowell (Head Keeper) and Jane Walker (Penguin Patrol) have spent time at SANCCOB’s seabird centre, assisting with husbandry and rehabilitation.
If you love penguins, then why not adopt an African penguin here at Living Coasts? Adoptions make a real contribution to our vital conservation work for penguins and many other species.
- Latin Name: Spheniscus demersus
- Class: Birds
- Order: Sphenisciformes
- Family: Spheniscidae
- Conservation Status: Endangered
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