Helping Penguins Fly!

African Penguin Health -
building a foundation to prevent extinction

Helping Penguins Fly!

African penguins are facing extinction within the next 30 - 80 years if the current decline continues. Key threats are well known, and huge efforts have been made to address them by government and private agencies. However, we know little about health and disease - read what we are doing to fill this gap.

What we do

African penguins are in trouble! The population was estimated at three million birds early in the 1900s but excessive egg and guano collection, and more recently, over-fishing, has decimated the population. By 2009, only 26 000 breeding pairs remained, resulting in the birds being classified as endangered by the IUCN. Since then, numbers have continued to decline, raising the very real possibility of extinction in the wild within our lifetime. Science-informed policies and conservation efforts are of essential importance to conserve this iconic species that occurs only on the coastline of South Africa and Namibia.

Little is known about the effect of disease and other health threats on the sustainability of the population. An outbreak of avian influenza in 2018 and 2019 killed hundreds of birds and showed how colonies can be affected by the disease. To learn more about these effects, we have recruited leading experts to undertake a series of studies to obtain and analyze critical data in order to support agencies as they work towards a common goal: saving the African penguin from extinction!

Adult and juvenile African Penguin
Health Survey
We need to conduct a survey of African penguins to determine if avian influenza and other dangerous pathogens are present. We will do this through a short, focused survey of birds at their colonies and a longer survey of birds submitted to rehabilitation centres.
Click on the picture to learn more.
A raft of penguins
Toxic Chemical Survey
In 2019, pharmaceutical and industrial chemicals were identified in fish near Cape Town. We need to check if such chemicals also accumulated in fish species consumed by African penguins and are therefore present in the penguins themselves. To do this we will test penguin carcasses for a range of these nasties. Click on the picture to learn more.
Beach crowd at Halifax Island
We need to develop early-warning systems to alert us to any abnormal increases in penguin mortality or changes in the size of breeding colonies. To do this we will use citizen science – that’s you! – and explore how unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) can assist. Click on the picture to learn more.
African Penguins main breeding colony at Halifax Island
No – we’re not talking about the type of modelling demonstrated by these strutting African penguins! Sorry! Instead, we will assess the computer simulation models that are used to predict population trends and see if the effect of adding the health-related data we gather will change the predictions. Click on the picture to learn more.
Penguins population crash
Population Crash
Each penguin in this graphic represents just under 5000 birds that were present 120 years ago; those shown in the red zone are all that are left today. Click on the picture to learn more.
Invading abandoned buildings on Halifax Island
Stakeholder Assessments
We need to survey what people believe concerning the decline in African penguins, from government officials who determine policies to those whose lives are directly affected by the penguins – to those who live far away but contribute directly or indirectly to penguin conservation. We need your views! Click on the picture to learn more.

Who we are

Please click through to view all the collaborators.


Contact Us

Please send us a message if you want to get in contact with us.