= Greek, small wedge (their formation when swimming)
demersus = Latin, plunging
||Weight - 2,1 To 3,7 kilograms (4.63
To 8.16 pounds)
Height - 50 cm (19.7
are flightless, aquatic birds, which live in the southern oceans
in climates as varied as Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands on
the equator. There are seventeen species in all but the African
Penguin is the only one to inhabit the African continent and its
inshore islands. It used to be known as the Jackass Penguin, on
account of the braying sounds which it makes on land, but the name
'African Penguin' has now been adopted to distinguish it from the
Jackass Penguin found in South America, which is slightly different
in appearance and behaviour. Another name that is occasionally used
is the Blackfooted Penguin. The closest relatives of the African
penguin are, in fact, the Humboldt and Magellanic penguins of South
America and the Galapagos penguins of the Galapagos Islands off
the coast of Ecuador. Penguins are ancient birds, probably evolving
about 65 million years ago, at the time that dinosaurs became extinct.
Since penguins are well adapted to the cold, the South American
and African penguins feel the heat on land and have evolved various
ways to cope with the sun. African penguins have a black stripe
curving across the top of the chest. They are insulated by air trapped
between their feathers. This makes the birds extremely vulnerable
when they are moulting, which they do annually, and for this period
of about three weeks (at Boulders about November) they are land-bound,
getting thinner and more bedraggled until the moulting process is
completed. Before moulting they eat hugely and put on about 30%
more fat. Moulting takes about three weeks, during which their weight
almost halves. Although the African penguins are quaintly clumsy
on land, and ungraceful emerging from the water, in the sea they
are extremely skilful swimmers, reputedly reaching speeds of 24
kilometres (15 miles) per hour. Rather than using their feet to
swim, as many aquatic birds do, they use their wings that have been
modified to form extremely efficient flippers. Their webbed feet
are used mainly when swimming on the surface of the water. Their
feathers have become very small and waterproofed, overlapping to
provide better insulation. The African and South American penguins
have shorter feathers than the Antarctic birds, since they do not
face such great cold. Penguins also have heavier bones than most
birds to enable them to dive. African penguins live an average of
10 to 11 years but sometimes reach as much as 24 years.
penguins inhabit twenty-seven sites. Most are on inshore islands,
of which the best known is Robben Island. There are only three of
them on the mainland sites. The largest existing colony is on St
Croix island near Port Elizabeth, with about 50 000 birds. Dassen
Island off Yzerfontein, once home to over a million penguins, now
has about 30 000, while Dyer Island near Gansbaai has about 20 000.
The most remarkable of the mainland colonies is Boulders Beach in
Simon's Town with over 2500 birds.
& Eating Habits
penguins feed mainly on small pelagic fish (fish which swim on the
upper layers of the open ocean) like pilchards, anchovies, horse
mackerel and herrings. Competition with commercial fishing has forced
them to adapt their diet. They now also eat squid and small crustaceans
as well. Since penguins are capable of diving considerable depths,
up to 35 metres, remaining under water for 1½ minutes, they
can reach fish that other birds cannot. Sometimes they travel considerable
distances to feed, up to 30-70 kilometres, although they have been
known to travel over 200 kilometres. Particularly when they are
feeding demanding older chicks, penguins will spend much of their
days at sea feeding. On average a penguin will eat about 300 g of
fish a day, although this will increase to over 1 kg before moulting
or when feeding older chicks.
is little distinction between male and female African penguins,
although the male is slightly larger and has a longer bill than
the female. Penguins are usually about 4 years old when they begin
breeding. African penguins will remain with a single partner for
many years, producing one or two eggs a year. They only separate
normally if breeding has failed for some reason. They can breed
at any time of the year, but the Boulders population tends to breed
in March to May. The incubation period lasts forty days, and the
fledging period from 60 to 130 days. Young penguins have blue-grey
backs and white fronts, without the black and white markings of
their parents. Originally the African penguin nested in guano (hardened
bird droppings, in the past several metres thick) but when this
was mined for fertiliser in the nineteenth century they were forced
to adapt to other conditions. Now they nest in crude shallow burrows
dug out of the sand or under beach vegetation. The main reason for
digging burrows is to protect the eggs and chicks from the heat
of the sun. Antarctic penguins do not do this. Penguins prefer to
return to the same nesting site every year and will persevere most
determinedly to get back to their old nests. At Boulders they have
been known to climb over the fence that was erected to prevent them
from spreading inland. Incubation of the eggs lasts for about forty
days. When the babies hatch, they are already covered in a layer
of gray fluffy feathers which provide them with insulation and waterproofing.
The parents share the nesting and feeding duties. While one partner
stays behind, without food or water, for about two and a half days,
the hunting partner will swim as much as ten miles out to sea to
find tasty food. The babies are usually fed in the late afternoon.
The parents regurgitate partially-digested fish into their mouths.
Parents continue to keep close watch on their chicks for about a
month and the chicks leave the nest after about two months. This
can take much longer, however, if the parents have not been able
to supply them with enough food. Going to sea is the most hazardous
time of a fledgling's life - only about half the birds that go out
for the first time return home. At this stage remain at sea for
many months and only return home for their first moult. Young penguins
continue to stay out at sea for long periods, sometimes travelling
great distances. Only in their 3rd to 4th years do they come back
to their homes to mate for the first time. At Boulders the penguins
are relatively safe although cats and dogs have attacked them. One
of the greatest problems now is that they like to stand under warm
cars and several have been run over.
1983 a pair of African penguins were spotted on Foxy Beach at Boulders
and in 1985 they began to lay. Since then the colony has grown rapidly,
increasing initially at about 60% a year. By 1997 there were 2350
adult birds. Such a quick growth of the colony was the result of
immigration, particularly from Dyer Island, as well as by reproduction.
Birds have probably come to False Bay because of the good fishing
available since commercial purse seine fishing has been banned in
the Bay. Although Simon's Town is very proud of its penguins, nearby
residents suffered badly as the birds invaded their gardens, destroyed
the undergrowth and were generally very noisy and messy. The great
increase in tourists has also been a problem. As a result, the area
has now been taken over by Cape Peninsula National Park, the birds
have been restrained from wandering inland by a fence, board walks
and an information room have all been established. Boulders still
remains the only place in the world where one can actually swim
amongst the penguins as they have continued to invade more beaches.
They are remarkably untroubled by people but one should avoid harassing
them by getting too close or chasing them. Beware!! They have a
The Calendar Of "Penguin Activities" For Boulders
||Juveniles moulting and adults feeding up for breeding season.
|February To August :
|September To October :
||Penguins at sea, feeding up for moulting.
|November To December :
they live so far north, and in a relatively accessible region, African
penguins have been particularly vulnerable to human depredation.
From the time of time of the first Dutch settlement at the Cape
in 1652 penguins were an invaluable addition to the settlers' food
supply. Penguin eggs have also been regarded as a delicacy and were
sold and eaten well into the twentieth century. In more recent times
the decline in food supply has forced penguins to adapt their eating
habits. Seals, which used to share the same small fish, now increasingly
prey on the penguins instead. Oil spills from tankers are also a
hazard since the oil clinging to their feathers affects their insulation.
As a result of all this, there has been a serious reduction in their
numbers, and African penguins are now regarded as an endangered
species. There were several million African penguins in the nineteenth
century. In 1930 there were still over a million birds but there
are now only about 179 000 left. All the penguin breeding sites
are now protected. At Betty's Bay, another mainland site, a fence
has been erected to prevent disturbance from people and predators.
This colony has now grown to about 100 pairs. Nevertheless, threats
to their safety remain.
Concerned With The Preservation Of The African Penguin
Southern African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal
Birds) was formed about twenty years ago to rescue penguins from
oil spills and other disasters. It operates a rescue and rehabilitation
centre for injured seabirds near Tableview in Cape Town. SANCCOB
is funded solely by membership fees and public donations, and has
been scientifically proven to be the most successful sea bird rehabilitation
centre in the world. In 1994, when the tanker, the Apollo Sea, was
wrecked off the Cape Town coast, about 10 000 birds were oiled.
About half of these were saved. Much was learnt from this and other
disasters. When another major oil slick threatened the penguins
after the bulk ore carrier, Treasure sank off Robben Island in June
2000, an even larger rescue operation was conducted. Over 18 000
oiled penguins were rescued and cleaned. More than 19 000 unoiled
penguins were trucked to Port Elizabeth, where they were released.
It was hoped that the oil would have dispersed by the time they
returned home. They proved to be efficient navigators. Three of
the rescued birds, named Percy, Pamela and Peter, had transmitters
attached to their backs. All made it home safely, finding their
way speedily and with remarkable accuracy.
SANCCOB website: http://www.sanccob.co.za
PENINSULA NATIONAL PARK
park, which includes Boulders, was formed in May 1998 and is managed
be the South African National Parks Board.
CPNP website: http://www.cpnp.co.za
DEMOGRAPHY UNIT, University of Cape Town
is a really great web site with lots of information.
stage, their web site still needs development.
African Penguin. A Natural History - Phil
(Cape Town, Struik, 2001)
R50 from Cape Peninsula National Park