African Penguins on the Brink

The African penguin is likely to be functionally extinct on South Africa’s  west coast in less than 15 years, unless we take immediate action.

Depleted fish reserves, toxic oil spills, and damage to their nesting grounds – leaving them vulnerable to climate change – have combined to bring African penguins to the brink.

When surveys began in the early 1900s there were
3 million African penguins. Since then we have lost 95% of the population, and their numbers continue to drop.  In 2000, there were an estimated 53,000. Today, there are just 17,700 breeding pairs.

We are now at the point where every bird counts.

In June 2020 the Lewis Pugh Foundation gave over its social media pages to SANCCOB (the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the largest animal rescue in history. When the MV ‘Treasure’ sank off Cape Town in June 2000, it spilled 400 tons of bunker oil and imperilled a key breeding population of African penguins. The response effort, led by SANCCOB,  brought together thousands of concerned citizens who cleaned and relocated 40,000 African penguins, averting what could have been a tragedy for the species.

But they are still at risk.

In November 2020 Lewis called on the South African Government to put in place three simple measures that could change the fate of the African penguin: no-take fishing zones around penguin breeding colonies; moving off-shore oil bunkering away from penguin colonies; and a requirement that all vessels transiting around South Africa have a wildlife response plan to mitigate the impact of oil on marine wildlife in the event of a spill.

You can read Lewis's Op-Ed, which appeared in the Daily Maverick, here.