Revision of African Penguin Status : Now Endangered Species
The Operations Manager of PEC (Penguin Eastern Cape), Trudi Malan, responded with deep concern on last Thursday’s announcement by BirdLife International that the status of the African Penguin has been reclassified from the Vulnerable list to the Endangered list.
“We have known for years that the African Penguin is in steady decline due to a number of reasons such as avian malaria, parasitic infections and the impacts of overfishing but having the species now officially listed as endangered, requires us to take immediate action to ensure this species does not become extinct in the near to midterm future. As custodians of the environment, the marine and scientific community simply cannot ignore the obvious and we need to take an innovative and forward thinking approach as to how we address the problem. If we continue on the same path as we have up until now, the African Penguin will be facing extinction within the next few years,” stated Ms Malan.
Each year BirdLife International revises the Red List for the bird species of the world. On May 27th they announced that the African Penguin has gone from Vulnerable to Endangered. This assessment is based on rigorous criteria, for the penguin, the population has crashed by more than 50% in the past 30 years, signalling a strong warning to conservationists.
In 1956, the first full census of the species was conducted, and 150 000 pairs were counted. These were the birds that had survived more than a century of sustained persecution, principally from egg collecting and guano scraping. In 2009, after another decrease (the global population fell another 10% from the 2008 count), there were only 26 000 pairs. Those numbers represent a loss of more than 80% of the pairs in just over 50 years, equivalent to around 90 birds a week, every week since 1956!
“The colonies around our coast have shrunk to dangerously small numbers.” said Dr 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 continued.
Dr Rob Crawford, chief scientist for Marine & Coastal Management, the government department responsible for monitoring and protecting sea birds, has worked on the African Penguins for more than 30 years. He said “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.” (Source: BirdLife South Africa)
In conclusion Ms Malan stated that the possibility of establishing new penguin colonies in the Eastern Cape does exist based on scientific research but up until this point had not been given serious consideration. However PEC believes the way the way forward requires immediate intervention by the marine community. For further information please contact PEC on (042) 298 0100 or visit the website on www.penguin-rescue.org.za