In June 2009, the Charl van der Merwe Trust became a Species Champion for African Penguin as part of the Preventing Extinctions Programme. The research that they are funding is helping BirdLife South Africa better understand the threats facing African Penguin and will be vital for reversing the decline of the species.
Once numbering in the millions, the South African population of African Penguin Spheniscus demersus has declined to fewer than 20,000 pairs. It is at risk from a number of threats including predation by seals, oil spills and food shortages. The latter is most pressing: penguins eat mainly sardines and anchovies, which have shifted their distribution from the west to the south coast, further from penguin breeding colonies. The fish are also the target of the commercial purse-seine fishing industry.
With support from a Species Champion (Charl van der Merwe Trust), BirdLife South Africa is tackling these issues. Research is underway to investigate the effect of preventing fishing in waters around penguin breeding colonies on penguin foraging and breeding success. Preliminary results show that this may benefit penguins as they do not have to swim as far to find food. Satellite transmitters are being used to track penguins outside the breeding season, to see where they go to fatten up before and after moulting. The results will help to identify the threats faced by the species during these periods.
Related Case Studies in other sections
BirdLife International (2013) BirdLife South Africa supported by a Species Champion is researching the threats to African Penguin. Presented as part of the BirdLife State of the world's birds website. Available from: http://birdlife.org/datazone/sowb/casestudy/558. Checked: 31/10/2014
|Key message: Conducting research to understand conservation needs|