Jackass Penguins

 

Penguins in Bettys Bay The Jackass Penguins are also known as African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) or Black-footed Penguin. It is a species of penguin only found in southern African waters. It has become known as the "Jackass" Penguin for its donkey-like bray.

 

They nest in colonies, mainly on offshore islands, but two colonies recently became are established on the mainland. One mainland colony is at Stony Point in Bettys Bay 10 minutes’ drive from Dreams and one near Simonstown.

 

The Jackass Penguins have a black stripe and black spots on the chest, the pattern of spots being unique for every penguin, like human fingerprints. Their distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage called countershading– white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the dark water.

 

They have pink glands above their eyes, which are used for thermoregulation. The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands so it may be cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink.

 

African Penguins grow to 50 –70 cm tall and weigh between 2 and 5 kg. The males are larger than the females and have larger beaks.

 

African Penguins catch and eat such as pilchards, anchovies and squid.  A penguin may consume up to 540 grams of prey every day.

 

The African Penguin is monogamous. It breeds in colonies, and pairs return to the same site each year. The African Penguin has an extended breeding season, with nesting usually peaking from March to May in South Africa.

 

A clutch of two eggs are laid either in burrows dug in guano (excrement of seabirds) or scrapes in the sand under boulders or bushes. Incubation is undertaken equally by both parents for about 40 days. At least one parent guards the chicks until about 30 days, where after the chick joins a crèche with other chicks, and both parents head out to sea to catch food each day.

 

Chicks fledge at 60 to 130 days, the timing depending on environmental factors such as quality and availability of food. The fledged chick then go to sea on their own and return to their natal colony after a lengthy time period of 12–22 months to molt into adult plumage.

 

When penguins molt they stay out of the water as their new feathers are not waterproof yet. Therefore they fast over the entire molting period, which in African Penguins takes about 20 days.

 

The average lifespan of an African Penguin is 10 to 27 years in the wild, and possibly longer in captivity. However, the African Penguin may often fall to predators.

Penguins in Bettys Bay

Their predators in the ocean include sharks, Cape Fur Seals and Orcas.  Land-based enemies include mongooses, genets, domestic cats and the Kelp Gull which steals their eggs and newborn chicks.

 

 

Of the 1.5-million African Penguin population estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th-century. African penguin populations, have declined by 95 percent since preindustrial times. 2010, the number was estimated to be only at 55,000. If this decline is not halted, the African Penguin is expected to be extinct within 15 years.

 

Commercialfisheries have forced these penguins to search for prey farther off shore, as well as making them eat less nutritious prey, since their preferred prey has become scarce.

 

As recently as the mid-twentieth century, penguin eggs were considered a delicacy and were still being collected for sale. Unfortunately, the practice was to smash eggs found a few days prior to gathering, to ensure that only fresh ones were sold.

 

Penguins remain susceptible to pollution of their habitat by petrochemicals from spills, shipwrecks and cleaning of tankers while at sea.

 

Disaster struck on 23 June 2000, when the iron ore tanker MV Treasure sank between Robben Island and Dassen Island.  It released 1,300 tons of fuel oil, causing an unprecedented coastal bird crisis.

 

19,500 un-oiled penguins were removed and released about 800 kilometres east of Cape Town. This gave workers enough time to clean up the oiled waters and shores before the birds could complete their long swim home (which took the penguins between 1 and 3 weeks).

 

19,000 recorded adult penguins were oiled. The oiled birds were brought to an abandoned train repair warehouse in Cape Town be cared for. This took more than three months to complete. This was the largest animal rescue event in history; more than 91% of the penguins were successfully rehabilitated and released.

 

The African Penguin is listed in the Red Data Book and U.S.A. as an endangered species.

 

Many organisations such as SANCCOB, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, SAMREC and the government are working tirelessly to halt the decline of the African Penguin, through various measures: monitoring population trends, hand-rearing and releasing abandoned chicks, setting up artificial nests, and proclaiming marine reserves where fishing is prohibited.

 

Penguin Sign at Stony Point Penguin Colony

 

 

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