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Episode 126: At Risk, African Penguins

The African Penguin is one of the best examples of how humans have driven many species to extinction, or as in the African Penguin to the brink. Isolated to the southern portion of the African continent. Multiple pressures such as over fishing off the African coast, humans destroying African Penguin guano nests and using it for fertilizer, climate change, ocean pollution and many other pressures all have led to a massive decrease in African Penguin populations. Today they are listed as Endangered by the IUCN with around 50,000 breeding pairs.

Current Biodiversity Crisis

We are in the era what many scientists are calling the “Anthropocene.” It is the era dominated by humans and described how we are directly affecting the planet. We also are in what is being called the Earth’s “Sixth Mass Extinction,” and we are losing species faster than any other time in the history of the planet. This week we discuss these distressing trends.

African Penguin History

There are an estimated 17 to 20 penguin species. The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is part of the group known as the “banded penguins.” This group also includes the Humbolt Penguin, Galapagos Penguin and Megallinic Penguin. All the other species of banded penguins live in South America, whereas the African Penguin is isolated to Africa.


Penguin evolution fascinates scientists and dates back nearly 100 million years. The first documented penguin lived approximately 60 million years ago along the New Zealand coast. A species known as “Penguin A” is the first closest relative to today’s Emperor Penguin and lived about 40 million years ago.

African Penguin Physiology

African Penguins have a number of dot-like markings flecked across their white chests. These flecks help to individualize each penguin, as each penguin’s feather pattern is as individual as a human’s fingerprints. They also have pink above and around eyes which is a special gland that helps them thermoregulate. The hotter they are the more blood is shunted there to help cool them off. Other facts include:

  • African penguins feed on pelagic schooling fish, particularly sardine and anchovy
  • These hardy little penguins can hold their breath over 2 minutes and dive over 400 feet deep
  • A penguin may eat up to 1 pound of food or 14 percent of its body weight per day
  • They range normally up to 25 miles (40 km) off the coasts but have been seen as far as 40 miles (70 km)
  • Can live up to 20 years in the wild
  • They can swim up to 12 MPH (fastest human is 5 MPH)

African Penguin Conservation

The African Penguin population has decreased from millions of birds in the early 20th century to just now 50,000 breeding pairs, with their populations deceasing.

We all need to reduce our carbon footprints. Please, please, please go and do a free assessment at https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx See where you are contributing and where you can reduce it.

Organizations to Support

Creative Animal Foundation

Saving Penguins: The African Penguin Nest Building Project



November 26, 2019
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