Protest at Boulders puts the spotlight on plight of penguins

On World Endangered Species Day, Extinction Rebellion is putting the spotlight on the plight of African penguins. Picture : Ian Landsberg/Africannews Agency (ANA).

On World Endangered Species Day, Extinction Rebellion is putting the spotlight on the plight of African penguins. Picture : Ian Landsberg/Africannews Agency (ANA).

Published May 18, 2024


Cape Town - To put the spotlight on the endangered African penguin population, the conservation action group Extinction Rebellion organised a protest on Friday, on Endangered Species Day, at Boulders Beach, Simon's Town.

The organisation said academics and NGOs, such as BirdLife South Africa and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), were asked to join them in raising a storm of protest that will force the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to not let the iconic South African penguin go extinct.

It said the time to act is now, or it will be too late.

The organisation said, “The African penguin only exists in Namibia and South Africa, and most of them live in South Africa. A century ago there were more than a million breeding pairs of penguins but as of 2022, there are only 10 000 breeding pairs.

“The penguin was given the status of ‘endangered' by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2010, but numbers have continued to decline and conservationists believe that they could be extinct as soon as 2035.

“This slide to extinction is not inevitable. In the 17-year period between 1987 and 2004, the number of African penguins greatly increased at West Coast sites, which gives hope that we can reverse the trend again.”

Extinction Rebellion said both government and conservationists have been doing a lot to help save the penguins.

“There has been extensive tracking of penguins to understand how far they swim, for how long and how deep, where they go to forage, etc. Weighbridges and tagging systems are being used to monitor penguins' arrivals and departures from colonies and check their weight.

“Nests have been provided to protect them from sun and storms and protect their eggs from being eaten by, for example, Cape gulls. SANCCOB has been collecting and incubating eggs that get deserted and releasing hatched chicks back into the wild. They have also been taking in severely underweight birds and feeding them before releasing them.

“A lengthy island closure experiment was carried out, which concluded that closure of areas around key penguin breeding colonies to commercial fishing of anchovy and sardine could reduce resource competition between commercial fisheries and African penguins and thereby improve African penguins' access to their preferred food,” it said.

Extinction Rebellion said of the many threats that penguins face, experts agree the lack of access to adequate food is the most urgent.

“SANCCOB is finding increasing numbers of undernourished, emaciated birds. After the island closure experiment found that stopping commercial fishing around islands where there are penguin colonies would help to arrest the decline in numbers, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment asked the fisheries and conservation organisations to come to some agreement on fishing closures that would be a fair trade-off between the commercial companies wanting to harvest enough fish and the penguins being able to access sufficient food.

“Unfortunately, the parties concerned could not reach agreement. The minister then called on an international panel of experts to decide whether island closures should be implemented and how to determine appropriate closures to suit all parties. The panel completed its work in 2023. The minister did follow the panel's recommendations to impose closures,” Extinction Rebellion said.

“However, BirdLife South Africa and SANCCOB say that the existing closures are not going to benefit the penguins because they are not sized and shaped to include the penguins' preferred places where they go to hunt food.

“BirdLife South Africa and SANCCOB have therefore taken the decision to take the minister to court, represented by the Biodiversity Law Centre.”

The organisation said this is not the only threat to penguins as oil pollution along the Algoa Bay coast has decimated what was once the largest penguin colony by up to 90%.

Weekend Argus