South Africa is known for its savannah teeming with “Big 5” and the springboks that adorn the jerseys of its famous rugby team. But another species is among the country’s emblems: the Cape Penguin. Far from the polar cold of the ice pack, this small bird has established several colonies on the beaches of the Western Cape region. A stay in Cape Town is therefore the ideal opportunity to get to know the penguin. Today, we present you with the places where you will have the chance to admire it in its natural habitat.
But first of all, who is the Cape Penguin?
The Cape Penguin can measure between 60 and 70 cm and weigh between 2 and 4 kg. Its plumage is black on the back and white on the front. The latter is speckled with tiny black spots, forming a constellation specific to each individual. In adulthood, pink thermoregulatory glands appear above the eyes. The young have their bodies covered with a fine grey down, which falls during puberty (between 12 and 22 months) to make way for their adult plumage.
The Cape penguin is an endemic species in southern Africa. It is distributed in colonies on 24 islands located between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth. Two colonies are also found on the continent: Boulder’s Beach and Stony Point. This is where you will be able to admire it during your passage in Cape Town.
The diet of Cape penguins consists mainly of fish (anchovies, sardines…) and small marine invertebrates, such as squid and crustaceans. They usually hunt them by swimming within a radius of 20 km around the coast.
The African penguin is a monogamous species. The breeding season usually takes place between March and May in South Africa and between November and December in Namibia.
An endangered Species
At the beginning of the 19th century, the population of Cape penguins was estimated at around 4 million individuals. Today, it is estimated that there are just over 55,000 penguins, whose population has been almost wiped out by human activity. It is now a protected species classified on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Considered a luxury delicacy until the middle of the 20th century, the penguin egg was massively harvested, accelerating the decline in populations. Guano, used by penguins to build their nests, was also used as fertilizer by man for a very long time. Nowadays, penguins face competition from industrial fishing, which leads to a depletion of their prey. They have also been victims of several oil spills. The two most serious were in 2000, when the MV Treasure sank, and in 1994, following the sinking of the MV Apollo Sea.