With incredible good timing an African penguin chick hatched at a Pennsylvania aviary just ahead of International African Penguin Awareness Day. The day is named to call attention to the plight of the birds whose population has been declining.
The “holiday” is observed annually on the second Saturday of October.
The African penguin was born at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in late September. Despite the name the aviary does not have federal status. “National” is an honorifc term Congress granted the aviary because of its unique status.
The aviary is now 40,000 square feet, the largest in America, and houses 600 free flying birds from 200 species. The zoo began in 1952 with 3,600 square feet. Congress gave it the honorary national title in 1993 during the Clinton Administration. The avian zoo is a non-profit. It is also the largest America aviary.
According to a quoted statement from the zoo:
“According to a release from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh, an endangered African penguin hatched at the facility on September 28. The chick was about the size of a lime at birth and is now thriving at the aviary’s Penguin Point habitat.
By the time the baby bird is three months old, the penguin will reach its adult size — around 18 inches tall, weighing up to 10 pounds. African penguins, the aviary explained, are monomorphic, meaning males and females are visually similar, so a DNA feather test is needed to determine the new chick’s sex.”
African black-footed penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are one of 28 penguin species in the world, according to the Two Oceans Aquarium. That aquarium is located in Capetown, South Africa. Since penguins are closely related the exact number of species is in dispute. Some experts put the number at 16, the aquarium lists 28. Much of the controversy centers around Gentoo penguins, which may be divided into multiple subspecies, depending on DNA research.
African black-footed penguins are the only African penguins. They are found living in South Africa and Namibia. They are considered seriously endangered because the number of pairs is now estimated at less than 20,000. The majority are in South Africa with about one-quarter in Namibia.
According to the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Seabirds (SANCCOB) the situation is critical. African penguins are one of three species that are considered seriously endangered.
SANCCOB is one organization working to find answers. Habitat loss, conflict with humans, depletion of food source, degradation of nesting areas, taking of eggs, entrapment in fishing nets and the disturbance caused by guano gathering are among the current and historical threats that need to be addressed. SANCCOB estimates that the population may have dropped as much as 97 percent in the last century.
SANCCOB and other organizations are working to address these and other issues threatening the birds. Other nations also are facing serious problems saving marine life. Manatees in Florida are starving to death. Pollution has resulted in algae blooms that block sunlight from the water. That means the seagrass they depend on is depleted. Efforts including emergency feeding are underway. Sadly, China has declared a mantee relative, the dugong, “functionally extinct” in Chinese waters.