African penguins, not Jackass Penguins, thank you very much. Great umbrage is taken by the locals when a tourist asks how they can find the Jackass penguins at Boulders. True, their braying calls remind the casual observer of a Jackass until recent Political Correctness has brought a name change to these flightless birds. And, these calls brought European sailors to the colony for penguins and penguin eggs, supplements to a decidedly unimaginative menu of inadequately fed seamen. Nevertheless, it is said that they’ll ignore your camera lens if addressed by their former name.
Cape Town’s Boulders Beach, located in Simons Town, is part of the Table Mountain National Park. It wasn’t always this way because it wasn’t until 1983 that a breeding pair began to call a nice, little beach, home. Since then, there has been an increasing number of monogamous breeding couples colonizing this small piece of real estate. And, as such, it is one of only a few in the world accessible for viewing Sphenisus demersus. And, as one may expect, an increasing number of “braying” penguins and the daily accumulations of guano, once mined as fertilizer before the advent of synthetic forms, resulted in a bit of discontent between local residents and their new neighbors. The “problem” was solved when the national park erected three breeding beaches, fenced off from the surroundings, where the penguins now call theirs.
As of 26 May 2010, African Penguins are now reclassified as an Endangered species. The first full census of the species, conducted in 1956, identified approximately 150,000 breeding pairs. Since then, their numbers have dwindled. In 2009, only 26,000 breeding pairs are known left in the world, indicating a loss of more than 80% of breeding pairs in just over 50 years! This is true for the Simons Town colony where estimates are that this area has lost about 50% of its population in the past 30 years. What is responsible for such a catastrophic loss? Oil. The Penguin Conservation Centre in Cape Town is barely able to handle the large numbers of birds which arrive everyday for treatment and removal of fuel oil. Since, 2001, more than 700 birds per year are rescued by the Centre, and the numbers have not changed significantly over this time frame. An unfortunate state of affairs, but a real threat to this species.
We’ve been fortunate enough to have witnessed a full breeding season of the Simons Town’s colony, from mating, to nesting, to the hatchlings and, ultimately, to freedom. The following images capture this journey.