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Every year, tourists and locals alike flock to Boulders Beach in Cape Town to bathe among the cute, waddling penguins. People often question their presence on the warm, sunny shores of South Africa. Surely they should be surrounded by ice and snow? While this is true for some species, the African penguin is acclimatized to more temperate climates.
Penguins are a group of aquatic, flightless birds found in the southern hemisphere, predominantly in Antarctica. The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) — also known as the Jackass penguin for its donkey-like bray — is the only penguin species found on the southwestern coast of Africa.
African penguins breed in colonies along the coast and on islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. They are characterized by their black upper body and white chest that aids in camouflaging them from predators.
The African penguin averages about 2 ft (60 cm) tall and weighs up to 8 lbs (3.5 kg). Like all extant penguins, African penguins are flightless birds with a streamlined body and flippers, ideal for diving and catching fish.
They are monogamous birds lay their eggs in burrows or under boulders or bushes. Juvenile penguins have grey or brown plumage which they shed when they come of age. Their average lifespan is 10-15 years.
African penguins have a unique way of keeping their bodies cool. As the temperature rises, blood is sent to the glands above their eyes and cooled by the surrounding air. This gives the eye area its pink color.
Sadly, dwindling numbers have led to the African penguin being classified as endangered. Climate change, oil spills, and over-fishing have all contributed to the decline of the species. Today, fewer than 25,000 breeding pairs remain in the wild. Numerous South African wildlife organizations, such as Sanccob, are dedicated to saving the African penguin.
The best spots to see African penguins in South Africa are Boulders Beach, Cape Town and the Stony Point penguin colony in Betty’s Bay. These charismatic birds are known for allowing people to come within a meter of them.
Jessica Stafford / © Culture Trip