Many groups celebrate an African Penguin Awareness Day in October. Since we’re always looking for chances to celebrate this iconic species and bring awareness to their plight, we wanted to share the special perspective from one of our penguin biologists.
Unfortunately, it is very tough to be a penguin in the wild. They face a wide range of obstacles, from overfishing to oil spills. The African penguin is listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, and the species has seen a population reduction of about 90% since the beginning of the 20th century, with population trends continuing to decline.
Each year in honor of African Penguin Awareness Day, SANCCOB, a seabird rehabilitation center in Cape Town, South Africa, holds a special public release of rehabilitated African penguins back into the wild. Two years ago, I was lucky enough to have participated in this day, and even got to release a penguin myself!
Penguins admitted to SANCCOB for rehabilitation will spend from a few weeks to a few months getting plenty of fish and nutrients as well as any necessary veterinary care to get them back on their feet. Before a penguin leaves the center, staff will make careful observations of body condition and feather quality, as well as perform an overall wellness exam. Once the bird is deemed healthy enough, it will be released back into the wild at one of the nearby colonies.
SANCCOB’s rehabilitation work helps to increase the population of wild African penguins.
Here at the New England Aquarium, we also do our part to help preserve the population! We participate with other organizations in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) in a program called SSP, or Species Survival Plan. The mission of such a plan is to oversee the population management of select species to enhance conservation of this species in the wild. By breeding specific pairs, we will ensure that we have a healthy and genetically diverse population in zoos and aquariums across the country for years to come. So if you never get a chance to see African penguins in the wild, like I did, you will get a chance to see them when you visit places like the New England Aquarium.
What better way to celebrate African Penguin Awareness Day than to visit our own African penguins at the Aquarium? After all, they have dressed up in their best tuxedos for the occasion.
— Miren Schleicher, Assistant Aquarist