About the African Penguin
The African Penguin, Spheniscus demersus, is also called the Blackfoot penguin and the Jackass penguin. This penguin is found off the coast of Southern Africa. Penguins are birds that cannot fly, but penguins swim very well and spend most of their lives in the sea. African penguins can swim at a speed of about 4.3 to 15 miles per hour (7-24 kph). This bird got its name from the donkey- or jackass-like sounds that it makes. Anatomy: African Penguins are about 2 feet (60 cm) tall; they weigh from 6.8 to 8 pounds (3.1-3.6 kg). The male is larger and has a longer bill than the female. There is a black stripe on the chest. Like all penguins, African Penguins have a big head, a short, thick neck, a streamlined shape, a short, wedge-shaped tail, and small, flipper-like wings. They have webbed feet which they use for swimming. Penguins are counter shaded; they have a lighter colour on the belly and a darker colour on their back; this coloration helps camouflage them when they are in the water, hiding them from predators. Feathers: Penguins have shiny, waterproof feathers that help keep their skin dry. They have more feathers than most other birds - about 70 feathers per square inch. Once a year, penguins malt, losing their old feathers and growing new ones. While malting (which takes about 3 weeks), they cannot swim and do not eat. Diet: African Penguins are carnivores (meat-eaters) who hunt in the sea. They eat fish (including sardines and anchovies) and squid. Reproduction: African penguins nest by burrowing into guano (bird droppings) and sand. Females lay two eggs. The incubation period is from 38 to 42 days. Both parents guard the nest and feed the hatchlings regurgitated food. These penguins reach maturity at 3 to 4 years of age. Populations: African penguin populations are declining rapidly due to many factors, including: reduction of their food supply (by overfishing), pollution (from oil tankers), egg harvesting by people, disease, and guano (bird droppings) removal from their nesting grounds for use as a fertilizer. Habitat: The African Penguin lives in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Port Elizabeth (Africa). New colonies have been established on the African mainland. Predation: The life-expectancy of an African Penguin can be from 10 to 27 years in the wild, and potentially longer in captivity. Their predators in the ocean include sharks, Cape Fur Seals and, on occasion, orcas. Predators on land include mongooses, genets, domestic cats and the Kelp Gull which steal their eggs and newborn chicks. The Threats
As you can see the African Penguin population has collapsed dramatically as a result of the following: African penguins breed on islands and a few mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa. In the western area of their range they feed mostly on sardine and anchovy in the Benguela marine ecosystem. Because this area is heavily utilized by commercial fisheries, the penguins are competing with the industry for resources.
Concurrently, scientists suspect that climate change may be causing sea surface temperatures to rise. This impacts the abundance of the prey by causing a shift in the prey distribution to locations beyond the historic breeding range of the penguins. Consequently, the adults must travel farther and expend more energy in order to find adequate food for themselves and their chicks; the result is an increase in mortality due to starvation.
African penguins also face threats from predators of the sea, sky and land, such as Cape fur seals and Kelp Gulls who eat their eggs.
In addition, habitat destruction has led to the loss of preferred nesting sites. Previous generations of African penguins burrowed into the deep guano deposits that covered their breeding grounds to create a safe and climate-controlled nesting place for their chicks. Decades ago, the guano was scraped away and used as fertilizer, leaving a barren landscape...
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