Sunday, June 3, 2007

The African penguin - adorable and endangered

From at least 1.5 million a century ago, the African penguin's numbers have dwindled to 120,000 at most, experts say.

A century ago, at least 1.5 million African penguins waddled and swam the coasts of Namibia and South Africa. Today they are largely confined to a sprinkling of islands off South Africa's tip, including Robben Island, famous as the site of Nelson Mandela's long imprisonment.

Experts say there are 120,000 at most.

That number is plunging. Since 2001, the number of adult penguins in the two largest colonies - on Robben Island and Dassen Island, about 65 kilometers, or 40 miles, north - has plummeted by almost 60 percent, to fewer than 18,000.

"At the moment, the penguins are in real trouble," said Underhill, a statistics expert at the University of Cape Town and vice president of the International Ornithological Committee. "There have been population movements like this in the past. But this one seems particularly extreme."

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