Department unveils plan to save the penguin

21 August 2012 - 18:35 By Sapa

A plan to save South Africa's rapidly dwindling African penguin population has been released for public comment by Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa.

The draft biodiversity management plan, which aims to arrest the decline in the numbers of the distinctive black and white flightless aquatic bird, was published in the Government Gazette on Monday.

In a statement on Tuesday, environmental affairs said 80 years ago, the African penguin – known to ornithologists as Spheniscus demersus – had been the country's most abundant seabird.

"The African penguin is endemic as a breeding species to southern Africa and it is the only penguin that breeds in Africa. [It] was South Africa's most abundant seabird, but has suffered a massive population decline," the department said.

"The overall population may have been in the order of one million pairs in the 1920s, but it decreased to about 147 000 pairs in 1956/57."

This had dropped further to 75 000 pairs in 1978; to 63 000 pairs in 2001; and, to 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 decrease between the 1920s and the mid 1950s was mainly attributable to over-exploitation of African penguin eggs, nearly half of which were harvested each year for human consumption.

This practice was stopped in 1967.

Another contributing factor was substantial modification of the habitat at seabird islands due to guano collection in the past. In more recent times, large oil spills had also had a substantial impact.

"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," the department said.

Members of the public were invited to comment, within the next 30 working days, on the recently published plan.

"This is the first national management plan for the species and will lay the foundation for implementation action and future plans that will follow," the department said.

"[It] concentrates substantially on establishing guidelines around various aspects of African Penguin conservation and consolidating existing conservation work."

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