African Penguin Rehabilitation

To rescue, rehabilitate and release African penguins in South Africa


The breeding range of the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) extends from the central Namibian coast to Algoa Bay in South Africa's Eastern Cape. The African penguin is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa and is found nowhere else in the world. Its distribution coincides roughly with the cold, nutrient-rich Benguela Current, but is further determined by the availability of offshore islands as breeding sites. Like most other penguin species, the African penguin is declining and less than 10% of its original population remains. In 1900, it was estimated that about 1.5 million birds lived on Dassen Island (near the West Coast National Park) alone. By 1956 the population had fallen to roughly half that in 1900, and in the early 1990s there was an estimated 179 000 adult birds. Given a long-term decline of 2% per year, the African penguin's future looks gloomy; however, by the late 1990s the population had recovered slightly, and in 1999 there were an estimated 224 000 individuals.

The African penguin is classified as Vulnerable in the South African Red Data Book for birds, is considered Vulnerable in terms of the IUCN threatened species categories, and is listed in Appendix II of CITES and the Bonn Convention for the conservation of migratory species.

In 2000, there were about 63 000 breeding pairs of African penguins worldwide. The reasons for the significant decline in the African penguin populations are well known. Initially, the decline was due mostly to the exploitation of penguin eggs, and habitat alteration and disturbance associated with guano collection at breeding colonies. These factors have now largely ceased, and the major current threats include competition with commercial fisheries and oil pollution. Other threats include competition with Cape fur seals for space at breeding colonies and for food resources, as well as predation by seals. Feral cats are present on some of the islands and pose a problem at a few of the colonies. African penguins also face predation of eggs and chicks by avian predators such as kelp gulls and sacred ibises, while natural terrestrial predators such as mongooses, genets and leopards are present at the mainland colonies.

In spring 2005, 69 zoos and aquariums of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the wider WAZA network reported a total of 1757 African penguins to ISIS.


Oiled penguins and other seabirds sometimes get a second chance, as SANCCOB and other partner conservation organisations are very successful in cleaning, rehabilitating and releasing them. These birds have a very good survival rate and the current population is considerably larger than it would have been in the absence of rehabilitation efforts.

SANCCOB, the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds, was founded in 1968 in response to the increase in oiled sea birds along the South African coast. SANCCOB has responded to every oil spill along this coastline throughout the last 35 years and has helped to treat over 82 000 ill, injured, oiled and orphaned sea birds. Recent statistics given by the Avian Demography Unit of the University of Cape Town's Percy Fitz Patrick Institute of African Ornithology indicate that the African penguin population is 19% higher than what it would have been in the absence of SANCCOB's efforts. SANCCOB is a Section 21 Company (Registration Number: 2001/026273/08, Non-profit Organisation Number: 003-134 NPO.

WAZA Conservation Project 05005 is implemented by SANCCOBB, with support provided by Artis Zoo, Banham Zoo, Bristol Zoo, Living Coasts, Baltimore Zoo, Birmingham Zoo, Landau Zoo, Wuppertal Zoo and PAAZAB.


> to project overview
  • Zoos Help SANCCOB to Rescue African Penguins, South Africa
  • Zoos Help SANCCOB to Rescue African Penguins, South Africa
  • Zoos Help SANCCOB to Rescue African Penguins, South Africa
  • African Penguin Conservation

    African Penguin Conservation

    (1) - (4) © Tertius Gous / SANCCOB