20+ Interesting facts About African Penguins

  1. African Penguins, also known as Cape or black-footed Penguins, inhabit several locations along coasts in southern Africa (South Africa and Namibia). These are the only penguin species in Africa.
  2. Male and female African penguins produce a call similar to the braying of donkeys to attract mates. It is the reason they are also called “jackass penguins.”
  3. African penguins have bare skin around their eyes. This featherless skin becomes pink in hot conditions due to the accumulation of blood. It assists in regulating temperature by cooling blood through the outside air. They also push their feathers outwards to release heat.
  4. There were more than 140,000 breeding pairs of African penguins in the 1950s, but their numbers decreased to 25,000 by 2009. Consequently, IUCN declared them endangered on its Red List in 2010. The main reasons behind this decline are commercial fishing, storms, and oil pollution in the Indian Ocean.
  5. The South African government allowed the consumption of African penguins’ eggs and the commercial usage of guano during the mid-20th Century. This step also contributed to the decline of the penguin population. These eggs were a delicacy due to their large size and appealing taste. However, the government discontinued this practice by the 1960s after knowing its effects on the penguin population. (Source)
  6. According to estimates, African penguins can be extinct in the wild by 2035 without adequate measures for their survival. Currently, there are fewer than 11,000 pairs of these penguins remaining. (Source)
  7. The pattern of black stripes on the belly of African penguins is unique in each penguin. It assists scientists in identifying each individual without using metal ID tags. (Source
    A group of African penguins
    Black stripes on bellies are unique in African penguins

  8. African penguins have been living off the coast of southern Africa for more than 20,000 years. They managed to survive climate change and other disturbances by relocating their breeding colonies with time according to requirements. (Source)
  9. The closest relatives of African penguins are Humboldt, Magellanic, and Galapagos penguins. These three species are native to South Africa.
  10. There are several colonies of African penguins in southern Africa. Two colonies are land-based: Simon’s Town and Stony Point in South Africa. There are around two dozen colonies at sea.
  11. The mean diving depth of African penguins is 14m, while they can achieve a maximum depth of 69m. Their diving behavior is similar to other closely related penguins. (Source)
  12. Unlike many seabirds, penguins generally lack a sense of smell. However, experiments have proved that African penguins have a functioning sense of smell, and it assists them in detecting prey. (Source)
  13. Penguins love the scent of lavender and use it to build nests in zoos. These antiseptic and anti-bacterial flowers also keep their nests clean. (Source)
  14. Around 80 to 90% of African penguins are monogamous. Females usually lay two eggs in sand, guano deposits, or under rocks and bushes. Both male and female penguins incubate eggs for 40 days and then take care of chicks for 30 more days. Chicks then join a group of other chicks (crèche) to remain safe from predators.
  15. African penguins have lost their natural guano burrows due to its widespread usage as fertilizer during the 1800s. Therefore, they leave their eggs in unprotected nests during summer as they go to sea to prevent overheat. In this case, they can lose eggs due to heat or predation. Now, researchers have placed handmade ceramic nests in five penguin colonies. These artificial nests are cooler than natural burrows and can protect eggs from predators. (Source)
  16. The average lifespan for African penguins is 10 to 15 years. However, individuals can live for up to 27 years in the wild and 30 years or more in captivity.
  17. The world’s oldest African penguin in captivity lived for over 43 years. This female penguin died in June 2023 at the Richmond Metro Zoo, USA, after laying 45 eggs. (Source)
  18. Like other penguins, African penguins are carnivores and primarily eat animals in the waters of their habitats. These include squids, horse mackerels, anchovies, and southern African pilchards.
  19. The foraging behavior of African penguins and the physical condition of their chicks are good indicators of the health of their local ecosystem. These penguins dive deeper and swim farther than normal during the scarcity of their prey fish – sardines and anchovies. (Source)
  20. The main predators of African penguins are leopards, cats, mongooses, sharks, and seals. Animals such as snakes, rats, kelp gulls, and sacred ibis only eat chicks.
  21. Male African penguins have a higher survival rate than females during juvenile and adult stages. It happens due to higher growth rates in males and lower parental investment in female chicks. This condition can reduce breeding success due to aggressive competition between male penguins. (Source)


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