Wednesday 7 September 2016
Scientists and conservationists from around the world are gathering at the ninth International Penguin Congress in Cape Town to create an action plan to protect the world's 18 penguin species.
The Gentoo from the Falkland Islands, characterised by a wide white stripe on its head and its bright orange-red bill, is one of the three species which have shown an increase in population numbers.
The species has since been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable. “There are three species, the Gentoo, the Adelie and the Royal that have actually been downgraded because their population numbers have started to come back up a little bit. That doesn’t mean that we can take our eye off the ball, we need to continue to be vigilant and we need to continue to implement wide-ranging and inter-disciplinary solutions to address the problems," says Susie Ellis from the Penguin Conservation Society.
However, the African Penguin, endemic to South Africa, remains highly endangered.
Population numbers have dwindled by half over the last decade and there are only 25 000 breeding pairs left in the world.
Climate change and food shortages are threatening the existence of penguin populations.
The decline is a major concern. “Penguins are ocean sentinels. They tell us what is really happening in the world. Unfortunately, most of us do not know what is happening to penguins. Over 55 % of the penguin species are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list, meaning that they are in danger of going into extinction. At the top of the list is the African Penguin because its population has plummeted faster than any other species of penguin in the globe," explains Co-Chair of the IUCN Penguin Specialist Group, Dee Boersma.
Experts say the enactment of laws around fisheries and the establishment of marine protected areas are critical in encouraging penguin populations to grow.