The African Penguin is an indicator species and plays a vital role in the ocean ecosystem, so its dwindling numbers are an alarm bell showing there’s something seriously wrong in this ecosystem.
The African penguin is the only penguin species endemic to Africa. It’s found only in Namibia and South Africa. Penguins are undeniably charismatic animals, donning feathery “tuxedos” and comical waddling, but few among them are as charming and unique as the African penguin. With their speckled feathers, distinct call (which sounds a lot like a donkey’s bray) and mischievous personalities, the African penguin has waddled, hopped and swum its way into the hearts of millions the world over.
Their bubbly energy and acrobatic swimming moves make them a delight to watch, be it in aquariums or at one of their famed homes at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, where thousands of tourists flock to see them every year. What makes them an iconic part of our heritage is that they’re uniquely African, found only in Namibia and South Africa.
This is why it’s been devastating to see how their numbers have plummeted over the years. Today they are classified as endangered. Concerningly, over the last century, we’ve lost 95% of their population, with numbers of breeding pairs sinking from over 1 million to just over 10 000 in 2021. Unless drastic action is taken, the African penguin risks becoming extinct in the wild by 2035. This would be devastating for the ocean’s ecosystem and other species, and a huge loss for our heritage and tourism industry.
So, what’s the problem? Simply put they’re going hungry. They face competition over food and resource with commercial fisheries that target anchovies and sardines (the staple food of African penguins).
African penguin breeding pairs have dropped from over 1 million a century ago to just over 10 000 in 2021.
Want to help?
Here are six ways you can show your support.
- Download our WWF-SASSI app and choose green!
This is a helpful tool to empower you to make sustainable seafood choices. Follow the traffic light system when you’re at the shops or dining out, so that the dish you choose doesn’t put you in competition with penguins.
- Visit the penguins in person
There are few things as delightful as spending time observing an African penguin colony – it’s hours of fun for the whole family. For South Africans, we’re spoiled with chances to get up close and in person with African penguins. Check them out at:
- Two Oceans Aquarium:You can even book a “Penguin Experience” at the Two Oceans Aquarium and watch the penguins, play, and swim in their enclosure.
- Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town:Make a day of it and visit the famous colony playing on the beach and in the waves. Another option, further from Cape Town, is the Stony Point Nature Reserve in Betty’s Bay.
- SANCCOB:Visit rescued African penguins at SANCCOB, and you could even volunteer to work with the animals hands-on.
- Check your local zoo:Contact the zoo closest to you to enquire whether they have a penguin enclosure of African penguins.
The penguin colonies in Simon’s Town and Betty’s Bay are famous the world over. You can visit them and see these characterful animals in their natural environment.
- Adopt a penguin
Symbolically adopting a penguin is one way to financially contribute to the work we do to conserve the ocean’s ecosystems, for the benefit of penguins and all marine life. You’ll get an adoption certificate, regular updates, a beautiful photograph and your very own adorable plush penguin.
- Visit our partner pages
Visit our affiliate “Not On Our Watch” campaign, and follow And follow @african_penguin_noow on Instagram or Facebook and Instagram. The #NOOW campaign raises awareness of the need for urgent action to help stop the African penguin population numbers from declining any further. It contains great additional resources and info on the African penguin too.
The speckles on the African penguin’s chest are unique to each penguin very much like fingerprints or freckles on humans.
- Watch Penguin Town
The Emmy award-winning show is based on the surprisingly intricate, often dramatic lives of the penguin colony living at our own Boulders Beach and gives an intimate insight into the lives of these animals and the threats they face. With winter upon us, it’s a perfect time to cuddle up on the couch and binge-watch this charming Netflix show to help grow your appreciation for this species.
- Share this blog
Share this blog on your channels, to help spread awareness of the plight of the African penguin. Because we do not want the African Penguin to go functionally extinct #NOOW – Not On Our Watch
If we take drastic and intentional action now, we can still reverse the decline of the African penguin to ensure they can waddle their way into the hearts of future generations too. Whichever way you choose to support these lovable and unique animals we hope you hop to it today.
Alexandra Kögl – WWF South Africa Social Media Officer