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African Penguins

When one thinks of African animals, the penguin doesn’t immediately come to mind, but in such a diverse environment it shouldn’t come as a surprise. The African penguin is also referred to as the black-footed penguin or sometimes the jackass penguin because it makes a sound that resembles the bray of a donkey. Like other penguins, it is flightless and has a streamlined body with wings that are stiff and flattened like flippers to suit its marine habitat.

Growing to an adult height of between 24 and 28 inches tall, they weigh from 5 to 7 pounds. The African penguin has a black body and facial mask with white underparts that are spotted as well as having a black band surrounding the abdomen. They also have a pink gland above the eyes that allows them to cope with the ever changing temperatures. As the temperature rises, the body sends blood to these patches of skin to be cooled by the surrounding air. The increased flow of blood causes the skin to turn a dark pink color.

African penguins Boulder Bay

African penguins Boulder Bay CC BY-SA 3.0 License Photo by Charlesjsharp

The African penguin can be found on Africa’s southwest coast and make their homes on 24 different islands between Algoa Bay, which is near Port Elizabeth, and Namibia. The only species of penguin to breed in South Africa, their presence gave the Penguin Islands their name. In the 1980s the penguins established two new mainland colonies near Capetown. This was probably possible because the number of predators has been reduced. Namibia is home to the only other mainland colony and it isn’t known when it was established.

A pursuit diver, the African penguin forages in open sea for fish such as anchovies and pilchards as well as small crustaceans, squid, and other invertebrates. They generally stay within 12 miles (20 km) of the shoreline while hunting and their distinctive pattern makes them visible to predators while they hunt. They may consume a just a bit over 1 pound (540 grams) of food each day, but this amount increases when they are raising chicks. Although they are very protective of the hatchlings, parents will not sacrifice food for them. In instances where food is very scarce, the parents will allow the chicks to starve before they go without food.

African penguins are monogamous and breed in colonies with pairs returning to the same breeding site every year. They have a fairly long breeding season and nesting usually peaks in South Africa from March through May and in Namibia in November and December. The female usually lays two eggs and they are laid in burrows, dug into guano, or in areas of scraped out sand underneath bushes and boulders. Both parents participate in the incubation, which takes around 40 days. Until the chicks are approximately 30 days old at least one of the parents remains at the nest at all times. After that time, the chick will go to a crèche with the other chicks so that the parents can go to sea each day to forage. Chicks are ready to be on their own in 60 to 130 days depending on several environmental factors such as food supply.

Like so many African animals, the African penguin is listed as an endangered species. It was first listed as such in 2010. In the year 2000 there were an estimated 200,000 and in just 10 years the population had fallen to around 55,000. If the decline continues, these unique birds could be totally extinct within an estimated 15 years.