Department of Environmental Affairs commemorates World Penguin Day
25 April 2017
The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) today joins the rest of the world in commemorating the annual World Penguin Day. The Department, along with the management authorities (CapeNature, SANParks and Robben Island Museum), various stakeholders which includes academia, research institutions and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) have co-laboured to improve the status of the African Penguin and to safeguard the long-term survival of this species in the wild.
Eighteen penguin species have been recorded globally and were found to occur only in the Southern hemisphere, with the most notable in Southern Africa, being the African Penguin. The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is Africa’s only extant penguin and is also endemic as a breeding species to both South Africa and Namibia. This seabird was once South Africa’s most abundant seabird with pairs of over 1 million in the 1910s to present population recorded to less than 25 000 pairs globally. This led to the status of the African Penguin being re-assessed according to the International Union for Conservation for Nature (IUCN) criteria in 2010 where it was uplisted from Vulnerable to Endangered. Again in 2016, the status for this species was maintained as Endangered. In total, the species has declined by over 60% in the last 30 years and by over 50% in the three most recent generations with continuing declines.
The DEA gazetted the African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan in 2013, which became the first National Biodiversity Management Plan in the country. The African Penguin Biodiversity Management Plan aimed to address various threats on the African Penguin through an action plan. These threats range from the legislative framework, anthropogenic impacts, fish and fishing, natural threats, catastrophic events, insufficient research as well as insufficient education and awareness.
Over the last century, cumulative human impacts within the world’s oceans have become increasingly considerable and were the primary threats to the African Penguin. These included the harvesting of guano as a source of nitrogen, eggs for human consumption and adults for skin, oil and feathers. Other impacts were resource competition and fisheries by-catch resulting in food shortages; habitat degradation; pollution (such as oil spills and plastics); high levels of predation of eggs, chicks and/or adults by sea gulls and seals or other land-based predators such as mongoose, feral and domestic cats and caracals. This was exacerbated due to the removal of historic guano where penguins would burrow under in order to establish nests.
Like other seabirds, African Penguins have a valuable role to play in the ecosystem. They are sensitive to ecosystem changes and vulnerable to threats at and around their breeding colonies they also have the ability to provide an index of the health of marine ecosystems and can be used as indicators of marine resources including distribution of such resources necessary for human consumption.
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