Animal conservationists warn that African penguins, also called black-footed penguins, found along the coast of South Africa, could go extinct in the near future.
Listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the African penguin population has been plummeting due to multiple human factors, from industrial fishing to fuel spills.
Katta (Katrin) Ludynia, research manager at the South African Coastal Birds Conservation Foundation (SANCCOB), told Anadolu Agency that only 2% of the species' early-20th century population remain.
"There were millions of penguins in the region at the beginning of the 20th century. The 2021 data shows that we only have 10,000 breeding pairs left in South Africa," said Ludynia.
"This decline is so dramatic that our modelings show that they could disappear in just a few decades," she warned.
Noting that the main reason for the decline was the lack of fish that the penguins feed on, she said this situation was the result of overfishing of sardines and anchovies, which are the main food source of the flightless birds.
Climate change, fuel leaks, underwater noise pollution caused by marine traffic and infectious diseases are other important factors contributing to the decline in population, she added.
Rehabilitation manager Romy Klusener said the SANCCOB facility in Cape Town has been working for years to rehabilitate penguins and release them into the wild.
Klusener said that eggs from unsafe nesting areas take about three months of rehabilitation until they hatch and are released. This period can extend up to one year depending on whether the hatchling is injured or weak, she added.
When deciding to release a penguin, she explained, they consider its weight at various ages, as well as whether its flippers have become waterproof, which is another important factor, and for this they are floated in water three times a day.
Ronnis Daniels, a resource development manager at the SANCCOB, said more volunteers are needed to rescue the penguins.
"Those who want to save African penguins can join our six-week international volunteer program. Also, unqualified ones can join our three-month internship program," said Daniels, inviting people all around the world to work as volunteers.
She said those who participate in the internship program must take a firm stand to protect the African penguin species./aa