African Penguin

African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)


African Penguins are native to the inshore islands of the southwestern coast of Africa, and are just one of the 18 species of penguins found throughout the Southern Hemisphere.  They stand roughly 18 inches tall and weigh between 6 and 10 lbs. They are a temperate or warm weather species. The colony at the National Aviary can live outdoors year-round in their habitat at the National Aviary, which is specially designed for their comfort with temperature-controlled water, heated rocks, and caves.

Like all penguins, African Penguins cannot fly but are particularly well adapted to a life in the water. They can swim at speeds of up to 15 mph using their small wings as paddles, and will consume nearly 15% of their own body weight in fish every day.  This reliance on fish as their only food source means African Penguins are very vulnerable to human factors such as overfishing of their food supply.  Compromised fish stocks combined with human encroachment onto nesting beaches and oil pollution have reduced the population of wild African Penguins from more than one million pairs at the beginning of the 20th Century to only 21,000 pairs by 2009.  The population overall saw a drop of more than 60% just since the year 2000.  Without a concerted effort to reverse the negative impacts of human activity, African Penguins are on their way to becoming extinct in the wild in the next 10 years.

The National Aviary is proud to be part of the larger efforts to protect African Penguins and other coastal birds.
  • Through the AZA’s Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative, the National Aviary educates hundreds of thousands of visitors every year on the importance of conservation science and cooperative propagation management at zoos and aquariums.  This includes active involvement in the African Penguin Species Survival Plan®, breeding and maintaining the colony at Penguin Point to conserve the health and genetic diversity of the overall population.
  • In addition, we have partnered with Monterey Bay Aquarium as part of Seafood Watch.  When you visit Penguin Point at the National Aviary, we encourage you to take one of the wallet-sized Seafood Watch reference cards provided.  This handy reference helps you make seafood choices while shopping and dining that contribute to sustainable fishing practices – which in turn helps keep African Penguins and other ocean-going birds happy and healthy for years to come. 
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  • The National Aviary has sent our aviculturists and veterinarians to work alongside SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) personnel in South Africa, directly supporting the rehabilitation of wild African Penguins. We also support SANCCOB’s conservation efforts through fundraising, and by providing important veterinary supplies, and sharing our veterinary team's knowledge of medical treatment for African Penguins.