DEA commemorates World Penguin Day

25 April 2016


The Department of Environmental Affairs today, 25 April 2016, joins the rest world in celebrating World Penguin Day, in the face of the declining African Penguin population in Southern Africa.

Over the past century, the African penguin population has been facing a rapid decline, records show that the African penguin was South Africa’s most abundant seabird and that the shared population between South Africa and Namibia was well over one million pairs in the 1920s. Recent records show that some breeding colonies have experienced about 90% decrease in their population sizes. As a result, the current penguin population is just under 20 000.

Modern day challenges that still affect African penguin populations include pollution; habitat degradation; food shortages; climate change; human disturbance; diseases; high levels of predations of eggs, chicks and/or adults mainly by gulls, seals and other land-based predators such as mongoose and caracals.  In certain areas such as False Bay-Seal Island, Geyser Rock next to Dyer Island and Vondeling Island, penguins share their habitat with the Cape fur seal. This has introduced competition for breeding space leading to management interventions, such as, the installation of artificial nests which have proved to be a successful intervention. The nests assist penguins with shade thereby protecting them from heat stress. The most recent of this intervention was at Vondeling Island on the west coast where seals have recently re-colonised following east ward shifts from the west in prey distribution.

Due to the rapid decline of the African penguin and indications that the current trend will not be reversed despite the conservation efforts, in 2010, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) re-assessed the conservation status of the African penguin, which resulted in the up-listing from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’. The up-listing of the conservation status of the African penguin led the DEA and a group of experts from various organisations and management authorities to develop the first national Biodiversity Management Plan (BMP) for the African Penguin. This plan unified existing efforts by various authorities in attempt to halt the decline of this species.

The African Penguin BMP was gazetted in October 2013, following stakeholder engagements as well as a public participation process and is therefore in its third year of implementation. The aim of BMPs is to ensure the long-term survival of species to which the plan relates. The plan also provides clear objectives and a concise way-forward on how the actions relating to the threats will be dealt with.

The implementation of the actions within the African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan is carried out by two Working Groups, the Population Reinforcement and the Habitat Working Groups. These two core working groups (WGs) are supported by the African Penguin Steering Committee and the Top Predators Scientific Working Group both led by the DEA. Both the Population Reinforcement and Habitat WGs comprise of various organisations including the three management authorities Cape Nature, SANParks and Robben Island Museum in collaboration with National Zoological Gardens, BirdLife, Academia, Rehabilitation centres, to mention a few.

This collaborative approach to conserve the African penguin brings together the skills of policy-makers, local experts and managing authorities in sharing knowledge to work in a more effective way to save the declining African penguin population.

The breeding colonies of African penguins are protected in accordance with the National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act. The African penguin is considered to be at serious conservation risk as they are not immune to pressures caused by humans which mainly occur outside of protected areas.

African penguins like other seabirds, are apex predators and are very sensitive to ecosystem changes; which means that they respond to changes in their environment, including their prey, thereby assisting in providing valuable information on the overall health of our marine ecosystems. By studying top predators, such as African penguins, valuable information is obtained on the state of the marine environment. This information assists in the co-management of prey resources with the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries and early detection of ecosystem changes.

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Zolile Nqayi
Cell:082 898 6483