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African Penguin Population in Rapid Decline

May 20, 2009

Experts said Wednesday that African penguins are disappearing at an alarming rate due to depleted food stocks from commercial fishing and global warming affects on breeding patterns, The AFP reported.

A statement issued after an international African penguin conference in Cape Town said: “Last year there were only about 26,000 pairs of African Penguins left in southern Africa (this represents their global population) “” a decline of about 121,000 breeding pairs since 1956.”

Urgent action is needed to halt the decline in the Western Cape province where the annual survival rate in key breeding colonies had halved since 2000, according to the presentation.

Researcher Peter Barham of Britain’s Bristol University said scientists are working to understand the underlying causes, of which food supply is a major factor.

Overfishing and fish stocks moving with changing ocean currents due to the effects of global warming are suspected reasons for the disruption in food supplies, Barham said.

Additionally, experts suggest pollutants could have weakened penguin populations and affected their ability to find fish.

The statement also cited increased predation by fur seals around some colonies and the continuing risk of oil spills.

Other experts say the warming climate has created a lack of suitable, cool, places to breed within the traditional colonies.

Over the last few years, researchers have set up nesting boxes in colonies to shelter the birds from the heat and protect eggs from various predators such as gulls.

Fishing and sea temperature changes have also affected the numbers of sardines and anchovies””the penguin’s major source of food””resulting in the formation of new colonies closer to food stocks.

The African Penguin is also known as a jackass penguin because of its donkey-like bray. Southern Africa is the only area in the world where the species can be found.

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