- A-Z Animals
The African penguin, also known as the black-footed penguin, the jackass penguin, and the South African penguin, is a penguin found in southern Africa. It is the only penguin living in that continent.
Size: African penguins are 24-28 in (60-70 cm) tall.
Weight: They weigh between 4.9 and 7.7 lb (2.2-3.5 kg).
Color: They have a black back and white belly and breast. The breast also has a black stripe and is riddled with black spots the pattern of which is unique to each individual. There are pink glands above each eye. Juveniles have a dark dorsal side varying in color from a slate blue to brown. They do not have the stripe and spots on the ventral parts, which is much paler than the adults. The feet of both the adult and juveniles are black.
Sexual Dimorphism: Male African penguins are larger than the females, while the beaks of the latter are longer than the males’.
These penguins are endemic to southwest Africa and live in an island chain between Algoa Bay in South Africa and Namibia.
They inhabit rocky islands usually within 25 miles (40 km) of the southwestern coast of Africa.
They feed on anchovies, horse mackerel, round herrings, and pilchards. They may also eat crustaceans and squid.
African penguins form monogamous pairs and are loyal to the breeding sites, returning each year. They breed in colonies. Although there is not a well-defined breeding season, nesting has been seen to peak in November and December in Namibia and between March and May in South Africa. Courtship rituals include a male initiating a display that includes motioning and brays, head-swings are made to convey the ownership of a nest and to rival males away. Once a female is attracted to the male, a mutual attachment is formed when both parties engage in harsh calls and extension of the head and neck towards the sky. The female usually lays a clutch of two eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs for around 40 days.
The parents take care of the offspring for about a month after they hatch. During this period they regurgitate food directly into the babies’ mouths. After a month they are left in crèches while both the parents go out for food. The chicks grow their juvenile plumage at 2-4 months of age, and around this time they leave their native colonies. Males become sexually mature when they are 5 years old, while females become active when they are 4 years of age.
In the wild, they live for around 10-15 years, although some individuals have lived for up to 27 years. In captivity, they can live for up to 30 years.
The reason why the African penguin is also called the jackass penguin is that they use a loud bray, donkey-like, to communicate with each other. Other calls used are yells and haws. The yell is a contact call and is used during territorial defenses. The bray is used to attract mates, and the haw is used between partners, usually when one is in the water and the other one on land.
Oceanic predators of the African penguin include sharks, brown fur seals, and occasionally orcas. Terrestrially, they are preyed upon by genets, mongooses, leopards, caracals, and domestic cats. Kelp gulls have been seen to take the eggs and newborns.
The IUCN lists the African penguin under their ‘Endangered’ category. The reasons for this categorization are the over-collection of eggs until very recently, the collection of guano for use as fertilizer, and several other factors have depleted African penguin populations to a mere ten percent of what it was at the turn of the 20th century. Recent oil spills in their habitat have also raised problems for about 40 percent of their population. An estimated population of around 140,000 African penguins is left in the world.