The fight to save the African penguin

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Every year, the number of African penguins dwindles, and if nothing changes, they could vanish completely. Scientists report that the species is declining by about 8% annually.

Alistair McInnes, a seabird conservationist in South Africa, observes the penguins closely, noticing their thinning bodies. The African penguin, native to South Africa and Namibia, has suffered a staggering 99% decline in population over the last century. Dr. McInnes warns that if this trend continues, the species could become extinct by 2035.

BirdLife South Africa and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob) are taking legal action against the government, arguing that ministers have failed to adequately protect the endangered species. They believe it’s the government’s responsibility to prevent the extinction of species like the African penguin.

Currently, almost all surviving African penguins live in seven colonies along Africa’s south-western coastline. With only around 8,750 breeding pairs left in South Africa, the species is facing a critical situation.

African penguins face threats from both natural predators and human activities. The historic practice of guano harvesting damaged their habitat, while climate change has increased the frequency of storms and flooding, endangering their colonies. Additionally, commercial fishing reduces the availability of their main food sources, sardines, and anchovies.

Efforts to restrict fishing activities around penguin colonies have faced opposition from the fishing industry. Many fishermen argue that they are not solely responsible for the penguins’ decline and that other factors like predation and pollution contribute to the problem. Further restrictions on fishing could have severe economic consequences for the industry.

BirdLife South Africa and Sanccob are pushing for more extensive fishing closures to protect penguin populations. While this may cause economic hardship for some, conservationists believe it’s necessary to save the species from extinction. The legal process to implement these measures may be lengthy and challenging, but time is running out for the African penguins.

The African penguin’s decline is a sobering reminder of the urgent need for conservation efforts. As legal battles unfold, the fate of these beloved birds hangs in the balance. With concerted efforts from both conservationists and policymakers, there is hope that African penguins can be saved from extinction.

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