The African Penguin, Spheniscus demersus, is one of four penguin species in the genus Spheniscus and is endemic as a breeding species to Southern Africa. In 2010, the species was uplisted to Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species. In its three most recent generations, the breeding population of African Penguins has decreased by more than 50% and continues to decline. Currently, the main threats African Penguins face are competition for food with the commercial fishing industry, climate variation and its effects on anchovy and sardine stock distribution, habitat loss, and pollution, especially oiling.
Through education, volunteer-recruitment and training, research, and hands-on fieldwork in Africa, the Indian Ocean region, and the sub-Antarctic SANCCOB has become an international leader in seabird conservation efforts. One of the main species that SANCCOB focuses these efforts on is the African Penguin. Since the organization’s establishment in 1968, they have treated more than 90,000 oiled, ill, injured, or abandoned African Penguins and other threatened seabirds.
The Toledo Zoo and SANCOBB
Contributions from the Toledo Zoo will help support SANCCOB in all of its efforts, from rehabilitating African Penguins affected by oiling and human encroachment to educating and training citizens and residents of South Africa so they may take an active role in the conservation of seabirds and their natural habitats. Support from the Toledo Zoo will also help SANCCOB expand its capacity to house, hand-rear, and eventually rerelease young African Penguins that have been abandoned. This year, contributions from the Toledo Zoo are especially appropriate with the opening of the new Penguin Beach Exhibit. While visitors enjoy the unique experience of walking through the new aviary, they will learn about the tragic population trends of the species as a whole and the conservation efforts currently underway to save these birds from further losses. The SANCCOB story and their work is the key part to African Penguin conservation and ensuring a safe future for the species. As such, their efforts will be highlighted in the messaging at the Zoo’s Penguin Beach Exhibit, and through this, visitors will be made aware of the opportunities they have to help the cause and make a difference.
Bird Conservation through History
In 1930, there were an estimated 1,000,000 breeding pairs of African Penguins. By 1956, all but 14% of that original population had disappeared. In 1980, 7% was left. In 2007, 4% was left. In 2012, only 2% of the healthy breeding population of 1,000,000 pairs of African Penguins was left in the world. This trend currently shows no signs of reversing. Clearly, immediate and effective conservation efforts are needed to stabilize and reverse the historic and current population trend of wild African Penguins. A large collaborative project that had begun in 2006 is the Chick Bolstering Project. This ongoing effort rescues abandoned chicks, hand-rears them, and releases them at the appropriate stages of development. Recent research suggests that the introduction of these fledging chicks has had a significant impact on conserving wild populations. Currently, this is a main area in which funding and support is needed as the capacity to hand-rear these birds locally is expanding. Since 2006, a total of 2,407 chicks were admitted at SANCCOB with an overall release rate of 82%.