African penguin declared Endangered

The African penguin has been shifted from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Birdlife International announced.

“African Penguins have been sliding towards extinction since industrial fishing started around the Cape. The last four years have seen a population crash. BirdLife International has changed their conservation status to ‘Endangered,'” BirdLife South Africa said in a news statement.


NGS stock photo by Chris Johns

BirdLife International’s assessment revealed that the penguin is in a very rapid population decline, probably as a result of commercial fisheries and shifts in prey populations. “Worryingly, the assessment notes that this trend shows no sign of reversing, and immediate conservation action is required to prevent further declines,” Birdlife said.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conducts the Red List assessments each year. BirdLife International manages the birds section of the Red List for IUCN.

“This assessment is based on rigorous criteria; for the penguin, the population has crashed by more than 50 percent in the past 30 years, signalling a strong warning to conservationists,” Birdlife South Africa said.

Some 150,000 pairs of African penguins were counted in 1956, when the first full census of the species was conducted. “These were the birds that had survived more than a century of sustained persecution, principally from egg collecting and guano scraping,” Birdlife said.

In 2009, after another plunge (the global population fell 10 percent from the 2008 count), there were only 26,000 pairs. Those numbers represent a loss of more than 80 percent of the pairs in just over 50 years, equivalent to around 90 birds a week, every week since 1956, Birdlife said.


NGS stock photo by Chris Johns

“The colonies around our coast have shrunk to dangerously small numbers,” said Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager for BirdLife South Africa. “Now the colonies are very vulnerable to small-scale events, such as bad weather, seal predation or seagulls taking eggs. In a large, healthy population these events were trivial. Now, they

have potentially serious consequences. We’re almost at the point of managing individual birds.” he said.

Rob Crawford, chief scientist for Marine & Coastal Management, the government department responsible for monitoring and protecting seabirds, has worked on the African penguins for more than 30 years. “While it’s difficult to prove exactly what has caused the decreases, all the indications are that the penguins are struggling

to find enough sardines and anchovies. A huge amount is done to protect penguins from other threats, but the decreases have continued unabated,” he said.

Earlier this year, research lead by Lorien Pichegru, from the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology at the University of Cape Town, reported on preliminary results from a study on the impacts of closing fishing areas around key penguin breeding islands.

“Their study suggests that preventing fishing directly around the penguin islands may well provide benefits to the penguins. Marine & Coastal Management has commissioned a team to consider how closures could be implemented to benefit the penguins while minimizing the impacts on the fishing industry and fisher’s livelihoods,” Birdlife said.

The BirdLife South Africa seabird division is part of the Global Seabird Programme, a BirdLife International initiative. The mission of BirdLife South Africa is to promote the enjoyment, conservation, study and understanding of wild birds and their habitats.

Posted by David Braun

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More than forty years in U.S., UK, and South African media gives David Max Braun global perspective and experience across multiple storytelling platforms. His coverage of science, nature, politics, and technology has been published/broadcast by the BBC, CNN, NPR, AP, UPI, National Geographic, TechWeb, De Telegraaf, Travel World, and Argus South African Newspapers. He has published two books and won several journalism awards. In his 22-year career at National Geographic he was VP and editor in chief of National Geographic Digital Media, and the founding editor of the National Geographic Society blog, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society's mission and initiatives. He also directed the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship, awarded to Americans seeking the opportunity to spend nine months abroad, engaging local communities and sharing stories from the field with a global audience. A regular expert on National Geographic Expeditions, David also lectures on storytelling for impact. He has 120,000 followers on social media: Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn