Group Resorts to Building Nests to Save African Penguins

The traditional breeding ground for African penguins has turned to a rocky moonscape, leaving the rapidly vanishing species confused when it comes time to lay their eggs. Humans caused the problem and now some people are trying to fix it.


Like they have for centuries, the penguins will return to Dyer Island off the southern tip of Africa to breed this year. When humans noticed the patter, they began to shovel and transport the penguin-poo-filled topsoil to the mainland to use as fertilizer, eventually scraping the island bare.

Wilfred Chivell of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust has spent his time the last couple months trying to reverse this problem in a rather unconventional way: he installed 800 fiberglass igloos on the island for the penguins to nest inside. Apparently so far they’re a huge hit and the penguins like to “decorate” the igloos with rocks and foliage before moving in.

The group has also been hand-feeding some penguins since their natural food supply has slowly dwindled with the expansion of commercial fishing in the area. The penguins are recognized as a threatened species by International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

“I think [people] thought we’re a little bit mad trying to put houses out for penguins,” Chivell said. “But nesting was definitely one of the things they needed. And it’s an easy thing to do.”

The South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds also has been helping save the penguins by rescuing abandoned chicks, caring for them for a few months, and then releasing them back into the wild.

Meanwhile the South African government is considering closing off the coastline to commercial fishing in order to preserve the species, but according to conservationists, action needs to be taken immediately.

Photo Credit: Paul Mannix on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

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