Penguins with their distinctive looks and gait have fascinated humans for a long time. These birds are adored across the world. Children love watching penguins on television and in zoos. Unfortunately, however, five species of these much loved and admired birds are already threatened with extinction. They have been labeled as ‘Endangered’ species by the IUCN. They are listed below:
5. Northern Rockhopper Penguin
The Eudyptes moseleyi is an endangered penguin species whose population has declined by about 90% since the 1950’s. The species has a highly restricted range. Over 99% of the population of northern rockhoppers breed on two islands, the Gough and the Tristan da Cunha in the south Atlantic Ocean. These penguins feed on krill, crustaceans, octopus, fish, squid, etc. It is estimated that about 100,000 to 499,999 breeding pairs of this species survive on the islands. The species is threatened by climate change, overfishing of prey species, alterations in marine ecosystems, pollution from ecotourism, disturbance in its habitat, the introduction of invasive species like mice on the islands, etc.
4. Erect-crested Penguin
The Eudyptes sclateri is a penguin species that is endemic to New Zealand. It is found in the Bounty and Antipodes Islands of the country. In the past, the bird was also recorded breeding on the Campbell Island. Little has been studied about this penguin species. However, it is known that the populations of the erect-crested penguin have drastically declined in recent decades. Its small range further puts in trouble. There are about 130,000 to 140,000 penguins of this species living today.
3. Yellow-eyed Penguin
Another endangered penguin species, the Megadyptes antipodes is native to New Zealand. Here it breeds along the South Island’s south-eastern and eastern coastlines. It also has small populations on Auckland, Campbell, and Stewart Islands. The population of the species living in mainland New Zealand has significantly dropped in the past 20 years. One of the biggest causes of this drop was an infectious disease outbreak in the 2000’s that killed thousands of penguins. Climate change and human interference also possibly disturb the penguins in their habitat.
2. African Penguin
The Spheniscus demersus is found only in the offshore waters of South Africa. It is also known as the jackass penguin because of the donkey-like bray that it produces. Today, these penguins are on the list of endangered species due to a number of factors. The species has been historically exploited for its eggs which were considered a delicacy. Due to the heavy sea traffic in their range, these penguins are also susceptible to oil spills. For example, on June 23, 2000, the sinking of a tanker released 1,300 tons of fuel oil into the sea. 19,000 adult African penguins were oiled during the disaster. The prey of these birds has also greatly declined due to excessive fishing in their habitat.
1. Galapagos Penguin
The Spheniscus mendiculus is endemic to the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador. It is the only penguin species that occurs in the wild to the north of the equator. The species had a severely reduced population of only about 1,500 individuals in 2004. Although the population declined by about 70% in the 1980’s, conservation efforts are helping the population to recover gradually. Weather events and anthropogenic factors like overfishing, invasive species, and oil spills continue to threaten the Galapagos penguin in its native habitat even today.