Burgher’s Walk: African penguins

There’s always quite a hubbub in our local penguin colony as the penguins rouse at the start of a new day. Cute as they may look, they have excellent voice projection, and their loud ‘braying’ calls can be heard from some distance.  Like commuters gathering for the daily grind, they can be seen emerging from their nests and waddling from far and wide to the nearest assembly points.  Once there a spot of preening and a ‘limbering-up’routine precedes the moment before they enter the water.  They set off in groups – safety in numbers is their strategy in confusing the predators.

Sadly the African penguin population is decreasing fast and the species is listed as endangered.   From an estimated one million breeding pairs in the 1930s, less than 2% of the population survive in the wild today. According to the figures released by the S.A Department of Environmental Affairs in 2012 there are 18,683 breeding pairs in the wild.  Commercial over-fishing, pollution and predation add to the threat of their survival.

The Boulders colony has an interesting history having started with just one breeding pair in 1984.  The story goes that a number of rehabilitated penguins rescued from an oil spill near Dassen Island were released from False Bay and this couple instead of swimming back to the rocky island discovered the idyllic coves of one the peninsula’s premier beaches in the heart of an urban area.  As the population grew their presence wasn’t at all welcome.  Onto the scene came Van, the Penguin Man who took an interest in the welfare of the penguins.  Mr van der Merwe, a retired naval officer set up station on the beach and became a noted guardian.  Scientists and local residents have been astounded by the rapid growth of this colony which increased on average by more that 60% per year.  However the numbers peaked to around 4,500 and since then have tapered off to 3,069 according to 2014 figures.  SanParks formalised the area into a conservation area while the colony has expanded beyond the formal boundaries and the area to the south, Burgher’s Walk is managed by the City of Cape Town.

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28 thoughts on “Burgher’s Walk: African penguins

  1. Lovely photos! Impossible not to smile at them. It is a shame that they face the same challenges as penguins the world over. I must come to Cape Town again.

  2. I have often watched them preparing for entry into the Bay. It can take quite a bit of time but once a decision has been made (by one leader?) and he/she enters the water, most of the others follow. A few hesitate for some time before finally taking the plunge (sorry about that!) and generally a small number decide that the signs are not auspicious and turn back home. I’ve watched to see if I can detect communication of some kind between members of the band but, if there is, it has eluded me so far. Thanks also for the stats.

  3. Wonderful photos, Liz. This is a happy success story, which proves that with conservation, numbers can rebound. These birds must we interesting and fun to observe.

    1. It’s a bit of a worry as we’re not sure what happens out in their foraging grounds of False Bay – are there more great white sharks / seals which prey on tasty little penguins, or are there just fewer anchovies /pilchards for their dietary requirements? Overally it’s not looking good. Though I agree with your sentiments Gilly, little people going about their business – i relate to that! Feeding their families, raising chicks, housekeeping, nesting…..

  4. Thankyou for a lovely insight into penguin life, accompanied by splendid photos. It’s great to see the work of one, can do wonders for our fellow creatures of the earth. Thanks for sharing your story and highlighting the importance of Mr Van’s work, which may hopefully inspire us all to do our bit 🙂 Leah

  5. For some reason, I just never associated penguins with Africa, but of course the climate at Cape Town would suit them. Beautiful photographs! They are amusing looking creatures! 🙂

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