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Media Release: Draft management plan for the African Penguin published for public comment

22 August 2012

The African Penguin is endemic as a breeding species to Southern Africa and it is the only penguin that breeds in Africa. The African Penguin was South Africa’s most abundant seabird but has suffered a massive population decline. The overall population may have been of the order of 1 million pairs in the 1920s, but it decreased to about 147 000 pairs in 1956/57, 75 000 pairs in 1978, 63 000 pairs in 2001 and 25 000 pairs in 2009. Therefore, the present population is only some 2.5% of its level 80 years ago and the decrease is continuing. The species has an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List status of Endangered.  

The decrease in the number of African Penguins between the 1920s and the mid 1950s was probably mainly attributable to over-exploitation of eggs where up to 48% of all eggs produced were harvested for human consumption. This practise was stopped and the last permitted egg collections were in 1967.  Another contributor to the penguin decline was substantial modification of the habitat at seabird islands due to guano collection. In the mid 1800s, historical large deposits of seabird guano were removed from many of these islands. In instances, this forced penguins to nest in the open on the surface of islands, whereas formerly they had been able to burrow into the guano that provides safe and protected nesting. These surface nests are vulnerable to flooding, the eggs and chicks are more accessible to aerial predators and adults and chicks are subjected to heat stress, sometimes causing the abandonment of breeding attempts. Surface nesting may also have rendered African Penguins more susceptible to displacement from breeding sites by larger animals such as Cape Fur Seals that competes for breeding space on some islands. Breeding habitats have additionally been affected by the introductions of terrestrial predators to some islands and the connection of other islands to the mainland. Some mainland colonies are visited by large numbers of tourists annually and require careful management to avoid harmful disturbance of birds.

At-sea factors are likely to have been responsible for most of the recent decreases of African Penguins.  Large oil spills have had a substantial impact: in 2000, for example, 19 000 penguins were oiled following the sinking of the Treasure between Dassen and Robben islands off South Africa’s Western Cape; another 19 000 penguins were relocated to prevent their becoming oiled and some 3 000 orphaned chicks were rescued. Ingested oil can kill penguins, cause loss of waterproofing and ultimately starvation and impair their later breeding success. Predation by Cape fur seals on African penguins at some colonies is considered unsustainable. The main prey of African Penguins is small shoaling pelagic fish, especially sardine and anchovy. The breeding success of penguins is dependent on the availability of adequate numbers of these species to feed on. Penguins compete with purse-seine fisheries for these fishes.  

There is considerable concern about the poor conservation status of penguins and that they may become extinct in the future if drastic conservation steps are not immediately implemented. To enable the development of conservation actions and their ultimate implementation, The Department of Environmental Affairs and CapeNature held a planning workshop at Arniston in October 2010 to consider developing a Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Penguins in terms of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No.10 of 2004). A number of stakeholders from government departments, academic institutions and NGOs attended. The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust provided the bulk of the sponsorship which enabled the October workshop to be held. Additional funding was provided by the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), BirdLife South Africa and the Leiden Conservation Trust. 

The proceedings of that workshop were published in 2011 and were used to draft a Biodiversity Management Plan. This plan was published in the Government Gazette yesterday, Monday 20 August 2012 for public comments. These comments will be used to further refine the Biodiversity Management Plan for the African Penguin. This is the first national management plan for the species and will lay the foundation for implementation action and future plans that will follow. This plan concentrates substantially on establishing guidelines around various aspects of African Penguin conservation and consolidating existing conservation work.

Members of the public are invited to submit comments in writing within thirty (30) working days of publication of this notice in Gazette No.35607 to, The Director – General of The Department of Environmental Affairs, Att: Ms Humbulani Mafumo 

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To access the gazette, click on the link below: 


Issued by:
The Department of Environmental Affairs on 21 August 2012

Media queries: 
Zolile Nqayi   
082 898 6483  or 021 819 2423