Spheniscus demersus (African Penguin)
Jackass Penguins are found nowhere in the world apart from South Africa and unfortunately numbers have declined rapidly by about 90% in the past 60 years. This decline in numbers is mainly a result of harvesting of eggs for human consumption, reduction of food supply by commercial fishing, oil pollution from oil tankers and the large scale removal of guano (bird droppings which have accumulated, forming a hardish substance sometimes several meters deep). This nutrient-rich substance is removed from the nesting grounds for use as an agricultural fertiliser. Unfortunately, in the past it was removed using heavy machinery at the height of the breeding season with a devastating effect on the Penguins population, smashing eggs, killing young birds and destroying nests.
Jackass Penguins nest in burrows in sand and guano, under overhanging rocks, under bushes and even out in the open on occasion! This has lead to an increase in competition for breeding space with larger animals such as Seals. Although they can breed at any time of the year, they generally breed in the spring, usually laying two eggs with an incubation period of around 38 – 42 days. However, it is rare for both eggs to survive predation – the abundance of easy food in the form of chicks and eggs attracts many natural predators.
Jackass Penguins get their name from the Donkey or Jackass like sounds that they make, but they are also known as African Penguins or Blackfoot Penguins. They are extremely fast swimmers with an average speed of about 7Km per hour.
Penguins have shiny, waterproof feathers that help keep their skin dry, but once a year they moult, losing their old feathers and growing new ones. During this process, which normally takes about 3 weeks, they cannot swim and do not eat because they are unable to go into the water. Therefore, if you see our Penguins looking slightly scruffy, it is obviously one of their “Bad Feather Days”, although you will be pleased to know that our penguins are fed as normal!