By Rhonda Marquardt
Everett, WA, United States
Let’s start with an experiment. What animal pops into your mind when you think of Africa? Probably you pictured a lion, tiger, elephant or giraffe. Maybe you visualized a leopard or hippopotamus. How many guesses would it take for you to picture a penguin?
Most people associate penguins with cold climates, but penguins actually only need to be near an ocean to thrive. Penguins living in Africa inhabit a series of 24 islands that stretch west and north from the country of South Africa to its neighbor, Namibia. Guess what those islands are called? Yep, the Penguin Islands.
The African penguin is a charismatic species that is known for its loud, donkey-like braying noises, distinctive black and white plumage and large breeding colonies. It is a flightless bird that is well adapted to life at sea and land. Its body is streamlined with modified wings that resemble flippers, which enable efficient swimming. A thick coat with overlapping feathers assists with waterproofing, wind resistance and insulation.
Interesting facts about African penguins:
- Pink glands above each of their eyes become more colorful when they’re hot.
- They may eat up to 14% of their body weight each day.
- After they molt (grow new feathers), they don’t eat for three weeks.
- Both parents take turns shading eggs from the sun until they hatch.
- They build nests out of their own guano.
The African penguin has experienced rapid population declines over the past century as a result of overexploitation for food, habitat modification of nesting sites, oil spills, and competition for food resources with commercial fishing. Scientists estimate that the original population of these creatures numbered as many as four million. The International Union for Conservation of Nature puts the current count at 41,700. As a result, the African penguin is considered officially endangered.
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Learning Activity: Algebra 1
Approximately 3,000 African penguins live on a protected beach near Cape Town, South Africa. Called Boulders Beach, the entire area is open to tourists. In fact, there are no fences or enclosures to separate the penguins from their human visitors. Because this species of penguin is endangered, do you think more should be done to keep them safe from harm? Or do the benefits of allowing up-close encounters outweigh any possible risks to the birds?
- Website of the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds
- San Diego Zoo’s live penguin cam
- Video of African penguins at Boulders Beach
- At the end of this three-minute video a penguin attacks the camera!
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