Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Humboldt penguins: Spheniscus humboldti

The Italian naturalist Antonio Raymondi once visited the Islas Chincha in Central Peru, in the middle of the 1800s. He was amused to find "hundred of thousands" Humboldt penguins breeding in burrows dug by themselves in the guano deposits. By that time, the Peruvian Government allowed to some European countries to harvest the guano (bird drops used as a rich soil fertilizer) as a mean of external debt payment. Guano was mined from the islands with adverse effects not only on birds that produced it (cormorants, boobies and pelicans), but also on seabirds that depended upon it. Humboldt penguins were maybe one of the most affected as they use the guano for building their burrows and because they do not fly, becoming easy target for guano workers. If you visit the Islas Chincha now, you will only sight some scattered groups of penguins in small islets. Penguin numbers on these islands does not exceed 100 birds.

Penguin Population Plummets Due to Overfishing
Humboldt Penguins that breed along the desert coast of Peru and Chile are in trouble. Once numbering over 20 million birds, the species is now one-tenth its former size due to overfishing in the region.

Brookfield Zoo Humboldt Penguins
The Brookfield Zoo, together with the St. Louis Zoo and the Philadelphia Zoo, has a flourishing Humboldt captive-breeding program, and are helping to monitor the penguin population in the wild.

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