Of the 18 penguin species found around the world, 13 of them are experiencing population declines and are listed as Near Threatened, Vulnerable, or Endangered on the IUCN Red List. African Penguins are no exception. This species is considered Endangered and has experienced a precipitous drop in its population in a very short period of time.
The causes for the decline in African Penguin populations are multifaceted, but they are largely rooted in human action. Warming sea levels caused by climate change and over-fishing contribute to a loss of the fish on which penguins rely as a primary food source. Guano mining and human disturbance on the penguins’ nesting grounds reduces their reproductive success. Short-term disasters like oil spills and disease outbreaks also pose a serious threat.
As the African Penguin Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) Program Leader, the National Aviary’s Senior Conservation Scientist, Dr. Patricia McGill, is leading the collaborative effort of Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos to find and implement solutions to protect African Penguins in human care and across their range in South Africa and Namibia.
Dr. McGill and her colleagues are working to address long-term and short-term conservation challenges. SAFE’s initiatives include supplying and deploying artificial nest burrows and training teams across the African Penguin’s range to respond to disasters like oil spills and disease outbreaks. SAFE is also working to address over-fishing by using RFID/PIT tags to track penguins’ movements and identify high usage areas and mitigate conflicts with fisheries.