African Penguin

African Penguin



COMMON NAME: African penguin, black-footed penguin
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
ORDER: Sphenisciformes
FAMILY: Spheniscidae
GENUS SPECIES: Spheniscus demersus


DESCRIPTION: African penguins are a medium-sized temperate penguin with one black band across their chest. They have a variable amount of black spotting on their chest and belly.
SIZE: 61 to 71 cm (24-28 in.)
WEIGHT: Up to 3 kg (7 lb.)
DIET: Mostly anchovies and sardines but also squids, crustaceans, and other fishes
INCUBATION: About 38 days
SEXUAL MATURITY: 4 years old
LIFE SPAN: 15 to 20 years
RANGE: South African waters
HABITAT: Inshore islands and sometimes on the mainland coast
POPULATION: GLOBAL 180,000 individuals
STATUS: IUCN Vulnerable
CITES Appendix II (threatened or likely to become endangered)
USFWS Not listed


1. Temperate species, like the African penguin, lack feathers on their legs and have bare patches on their faces. Excess heat can dissipate through these unfeathered areas.
2. African penguins tend to nest throughout the year.
3. Gulls and ibises eat 40% of African penguin eggs.
4. On June 23, 2000 the ore carrier Treasurer caused an oil spill near Robben and Dassen islands off South Africa. The International Fund for Animal Welfare's (IFAW) International Oiled Wildlife Response Team, directed by the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC), was immediately mobilized to South Africa to help care for more than 20,000 oiled penguins. Due to this rapid response, within a year, the African penguin population on Robbin Island recovered to prespill numbers.
5. For more information about penguins, explore the PENGUIN INFOBOOK.


Population declines may be attributed to food shortages due to competition with commercial fisheries, human disturbance, egg-collecting, weather events, and oil spills.

All 18 penguin species are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 makes it illegal to harm, or in any way interfere with, a penguin or its eggs. Every penguin specimen collected with a permit must be approved by and reported to the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR). Penguins are vulnerable to habitat destruction, overfishing of primary food sources, ecological disasters such as oil spills, pollution such as trash in the ocean, and human encroachment into nesting areas.


BirdLife International (2006) Species factsheet: Spheniscus demersus. Downloaded from

Coats, Judith. Penguins: Flightless Birds of the Southern Hemisphere. SeaWorld Education Department, 2001.

Nuzzolo, Debbie. Penguin March. SeaWorld Education Department, 2002.