African Penguin


The threatened African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is the only species of penguin found in Africa.  Penguins have several unique characteristics that make them highly functional in the water such as waterproof feathers, a stream-lined body and hydrodynamic body, and the ability to reduce their heart-rate so they can dive to considerable depths and remain there for almost two minutes to prey on fish that elude other birds.  

The greatest threats affecting the African penguin population are human-related. Commercial removal of their feces for fertilizer disrupts the African penguin habitat, and the collection of their eggs for food dramatically reduces population numbers. Water pollution, such as that caused by South Africa’s June, 2000 oil spill, has impacted 40% of the population. Spilled oil coats the penguin’s feathers, which can lead to hypothermia (cold stress) and even death.  Commercial overfishing also causes a reduction in the penguin’s prey species.  Conservationists are discovering that closing marine protected areas to fisheries can have immediate benefits to African penguin populations.

The Penguin Taxon Advisory Group and the African Penguin Species Survival Plan ® Program manage over 600 penguins in 45 AZA-accredited institutions. AZA- accredited zoos and aquariums are learning more about this penguin species to optimize their management and reproductive success.  Several AZA zoos and aquariums throughout the country are successfully breeding African penguins.

African Penguin Facts

Status Threatened
Size African penguins are about 23.5 inches in length and can weigh up to 8 pounds.
Appearance African penguins have one black band across their chest and a variable amount of black spotting on their chest and belly.
Habitat African penguins live in South Africa and Namibia on the coastline or on small islands.
Diet African penguins feed primarily on anchovies, sardines, horse mackerel and round herrings, but will also eat squid and crustaceans.
Breeding African penguins remain with a single partner for many years, producing one or two eggs per year. The incubation period lasts forty days, and the mother will care for the chick for a period of 60 to 130 days.