Nearly 500 rare African penguins have died in the past 24 hours as a result of extremely cold weather in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.
An AFP report quoted a national parks agency spokesperson, Megan Taplin, who said:
"The chicks, aged between a few weeks old and about two months old and covered only with down feathers, succumbed to the cold and wet weather which has hit Bird Island."
The report said the penguin population was already dwindling with only 700 breeding pairs left in the area.
The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus),is also known as the Black-Footed penguin or the Jackass penguin because of its braying call. The species was officially renamed “African” penguin as it is the only penguin species that breeds on the African continent. It has distinctive black and white markings, with a black stripe and spots on the chest, which are unique to each bird.
Mongabay.com says there were as many as 1.5 million of the birds in 1910, but today no more than about 120,000 exist on the coastal islands off South Africa and Namibia.
A 40 percent drop was recorded a few years ago, but the reasons are not understood. The African penguin is threatened at sea by oil-related disasters, and its predators there include sharks, Cape fur seals and, even the misleadingly-named killer whales, or orcas. On land, African penguins are preyed on by the mongoose, genet, domestic cats and dogs and kelp gulls which prey on their eggs.