African Penguin


Animal Group: Bird
Regions: Africa
Sub-regions: Southern Africa
Countries: South Africa and Namibia

While most people associate penguins only with Antarctica, there are actually several species of penguins that live in the warmer waters off South American and Africa. The African penguin is a unique bird that lives in the waters on the southern coast of African which is mostly South Africa. This particular species is known for its braying like a donkey which has garnered it the name “Jackass Penguin”. While not yet extinct the number of the African penguin has been declining in recent years and it is classified as “endangered”.

The penguin is most noted for its black feet, which is why some call it the “Black-Footed Penguin” as well. The body is streamlined and the flipper-like wings give it the general appearance of penguins in Antarctica. What helps separate this species from its Antarctic cousins apart from the black feet are the patches of pink skin above the eyes as well as the amount of black on the facial area which make it appear that they are wearing a black mask. The unique pink gland above their eyes help them in coping with the changing temperature conditions as during the summer months the glands will receive more blood which is cooled by the surrounding air and water.


The African penguin is known as a pursuit diver as it hunts for fish, crustaceans and small squid. For the most part they live along the shoreline of Africa, but mostly on the small islands that are off the coast of South African and Namibia which are called the Penguin Islands.

On the mainland, Boulders Beach is a very popular tourist attraction where people can approach the penguins to get a close-up look. However, the beach is protected so that the penguins can live and breed normally. There is also Stony Point in Betty’s Bay, but that has been attacked by leopards on frequent occasions.

Reason for Being Close to Extinction

Despite being a favorite of tourist and actively protected by the government of South Africa, the number of African Penguins have decline precipitously over the past 200 years. It was estimated that at the beginning of the 19th century over 4 million of the breed existed. By the turn of the 21st century the numbers were down to 200,000. Today, that number is estimated to be only 55,000 and at that rate of decline they will be extinct in roughly 15 years.

There are numerous threats that they face to their existence starting with the rapid decline of places for them to live and breed given the growing human population. In addition, commercial fisheries have forced them to hunt further out to sea than before for food. Plus, the eggs of the penguin were considered a delicacy until recently which greatly dropped their numbers. Plus, the removal of guano from around the Cape coast which is used as fertilizer has removed the protected places for their eggs. Add to this oil spills and other disasters and the population of the penguin seems to be in an unavoidable decline unless major changes are made.