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How To Help Endangered Penguins In South Africa

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south africa penguins on the beach

How To Help Endangered Penguins In South Africa

By Bianca Knauf

There are few beach locations in the world as pristine as Boulders Beach in South Africa. Located near Simon’s Town, it’s a world-renowned beach village which hosts Cape Town’s naval base and a community of yacht and boat lovers.

But what makes the experience truly unique is sharing your sandy picnic and ocean swims with a colony of South Africa penguins.

A Unique Beach Experience

Yes, you read that right.

Walking the wooden beach boardwalk, there’s no question who rules the roost. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by penguins that have made thier homes below the walkways and amongst the lush bush leading toward the water. In breeding season, you’ll spot fluffy gray chicks cuddling close to thier parents. Which is adorable, to say the least.

african penguine



Having penguins sharing your beach experience is special. Their awkward stance makes them appear like odd little human figures waddling along the shore. Although they keep a distance, they carry on grooming each other and sunbathing on rocks just few from your blanket. And when you choose to take a dip in the cool waters, they are not afraid to join you.

Mostly, they just hang around and keep you company on a warm sunny day.

The Amazing African Penguins

African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are part of a family of flightless, aquatic birds who are wired for life in the water. African Penguin colonies spread from Namibia on the west coast up to Port Elizabeth on the east coast of South Africa.

Boulders #Beach, South Africa is pristine, clean and beautiful. It's also where you can hang out with the endangered #African #penguins! Share on X

south africa penguins on a beach

Most of these colonies are located on the small islands. There are only a handful of land-based colonies. On dry land these birds seem odd and uncomfortable, waddling along while making the most peculiar noises. In the ocean, however, they are adept to swim at high speeds with impeccable control and grace.

The African Penguin can dive underwater for up to two and a half minutes, hunting for small fish like anchovies and sardines that make up their staple diet.

A Romance On Boulders Beach

Many moons ago in 1983, a happy pair of African Penguins swam from the Dyer Island colony to Boulders Beach where they decided to start a family.

From their first humble nest, a booming colony developed over a period of two decades, attracting more penguins from the other False Bay islands.

Boulders Beach was perfect for starting a land-based colony, with ample nesting sites and large granite boulders scattered along the shoreline, creating sheltered bays that offer protection from the elements. As a bonus the penguins had the luxury of one of the most scenic beach views in False Bay!

Colony of South African Penguins on Boulders Beach

Today the colony is quite an attraction and folks from all over the world come to admire these marvelous creatures at Boulders Beach, which forms part of the Table Mountain National Park.

Being a protected area, locals take great pride in the beach and the penguin colony. Everyone here lends a hand to keep things clean and in check. The national park has also secured the area for the penguins’ safety and has erected ample boardwalks in and around the colony, allowing visitors close-up (but not too close!) interaction with the birds.

Problems Facing The African Penguin

The African penguin has been placed on the endangered species list. Years ago, during a census of South African colonies, over 150,000 breeding pairs were counted. Today, however, there are only about 21,000 breeding pairs left.

There are only ~21,000 #African #penguin breeding pairs in the world! Here's how you can #help them! #getinvolved Share on X

Three south africa penguins on a hill

There are many reasons for their plight, mainly because of human intervention.

In the past, egg harvesting was the main cause of depopulation. Sea-faring men and fisherman were removing eggs from nesting sites in large quantities to sell as an exotic delicacy. Fortunately, this strange idea is a thing of the past.

But the South Africa penguins face new problems.

Over-fishing and shady commercial fishing methods seem to be the forerunner in the species decline. Petrochemical spills at sea have also played a huge role in the deaths of thousands of marine birds and other aquatic life.

Marine bird species are amazing; they are adapted to their environment and have a special type of feather to keep them dry and insulated from the cold water. Oil sticks to and saturates these unique feathers which eventually leads to the bird’s death.

Urban development and habitat destruction also contribute to the African Penguins’ decline, with more space being claimed by the booming human population and less space left for the natural world to develop.

Stark climatic changes are affecting fish populations and their movements globally. This has a direct effect on the food available to the African Penguin and other marine life that compete for the same food source.

Conservation In Action

Despite all of these issues, there is hope on the horizon. Many amazing people are making a difference to the lives of the African Penguins. One such group is the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), a non-profit organization that relies on the help of volunteers and donations to protect South Africa penguins and other marine birds.

South African Penguins with an open mouth

Whenever there is an oil spill, the people from SANCCOB and their dedicated volunteers are on the scene in numbers to clean and help oil-soaked birds. Operations like this take a lot of work and planning in a very short space of time.

A great example of this is when an oil tanker discharged a huge amount of oil just off Robben Island, Table Bay in the year 2000. Approximately 18,000 penguins were collected for a cleanup and recovery period. SANCCOB realized that it would be a mistake to release the penguins again into the bay until the oil slick had disappeared. Because of the African penguin’s excellent sense of bearing and navigation, they would immediately return to the colony and get drenched in oil again.

The cleaned penguins were transported to Port Elizabeth on the east coast of South Africa. The released penguins navigated their way back to Table Bay, a swimming distance of approximately 900 kilometers. Fortunately, the oil had cleared up by the time the penguins returned.

SANCCOB is always available to help any coastal bird species in trouble. Often coastal birds get tangled in plastic or fishing line, or injured from interaction with humans and man-made things. They’ll step in to ensure the birds’ safety as best they can.

Want to make a #difference while you #travel? Here's why you should visit Boulders #Beach, South #Africa! Share on X

south africa penguins on the beach

How Can You Play A Role In Helping The South Africa Penguins?

There are many ways to get involved with helping  the African Penguin gain strength again. For one, you can get involved with a volunteer program that cares for wild animal species in need — SANCCOB is a great start!

SANCCOB has trained staff who care for the feeding of the birds as well as the maintenance and cleaning of their environment. Volunteers are incredibly valuable to the organization, especially in times of crisis where oil pollution puts the lives of the African Penguins at risk.

Volunteers are needed to assist with rehabilitation, which involves cleaning and feeding the birds, transporting them to safety, or even photographing them for fundraising efforts. The work can be challenging, though incredibly rewarding for the teams that make such a huge contribution in keeping the endangered African Penguin population growing.

And, of course, if you are in Cape Town, take a day trip to beautiful Boulders Beach, spend some time with these unique birds and directly support the initiative to conserve the African Penguin.

Sources: SANCCOB; South African Tourism; Stony Point Nature Reserve

Bianca Knauf


About Bianca Knauf

Hi, I’m Bianca, from Cape Town, South Africa. The world inspires me. Wildlife, different cultures, exotic food, new adventures and ever-changing landscapes, are what make my soul explode. By sharing my experiences, I hope that others are inspired to explore and visit locations they may not have originally considered. The world is a playground that belongs to all of us, and we should live every precious day with a happy and free spirit.

You can follow my adventures on my blog My Wild Earth, and on social media on Instagram and Facebook.

Sky Fisher

Sky Fisher is a small-town country girl with a passion for travel. She has a love affair with Central America and currently calls Costa Rica home. Follow her adventures at Sky vs World.

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1 Comment

  1. Patricia Thomson

    But what species are they?

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