Did you know that there are penguins in South Africa? I had no idea myself. I always thought South Africa would be dry and deserty, even in the wine producing regions. So I was very excited when I found out we were going to spend some time at a penguin colony on our way down to the Cape of Good Hope. The local penguin colony can be found in Table Mountain National Park at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town. It’s just a short drive from Cape Town.
The penguins residing here are the only species of penguin found breeding on the African Coast, hence their name: the African Penguin. Unfortunately, they are listed as endangered. It’s estimated that there are approximately 140,000 in the world, with a drop of about 2% each year. The biggest threats to their survival are habitat loss, oil pollution in the water, and human interference. This is why access to Boulders Beach is controlled by the SANparks authority, and park rangers are around to keep an eye on these adorable little critters.
African penguins are very social birds and tend to mate for life. Eggs are incubated by both parents, and while the female often lays two eggs, normally only one will hatch. This is what the younger penguins look like (not a baby, more of a juvenile):
African penguins are small to medium in size. It can be difficult to distinguish the males from the females, as they have very similar markings. But the males are generally larger. The African penguin can be found on the southwestern coast of Africa living in twenty-seven colonies on twenty-four islands between Namibia and South Africa. They create sheltered burrows to avoid too much hot sun. Though there wasn’t a lot of sun to be had the day we were there!
A unique feature of the African penguin are the pink glands above their eyes. These glands help them to stay cool in hotter temperatures. The warmer the penguin gets, the more blood that flows to these glands to be cooled by the surrounding air.
As these are endangered animals, it’s highly important not to touch, feed, or harass them. When we were there we saw a fellow trying to hand-feed one, and he was very insistent about it. He got bit for his efforts, so it was a small victory for the mighty penguin. But it’s best just to leave them alone to do their thing so that their numbers don’t fall even further. We kept a respectful distance, but I couldn’t resist getting my photo taken with a few penguins in the background!