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Penguin Invasion: South African Town Is Fed-up with Stink and Braying of Endangered Birds

When the African penguin made a comeback to the South African mainland in the 1980s, most people were thrilled that the embattled bird was again breeding in places other than on a few rocky islets off the coast of Cape Town. Fences and viewing platforms were erected to protect the penguins from tourists flocking to see them. The adorable penguins stimulated business for restaurants and gift shops.

Penguins Bray Like Donkeys

But all that’s changed for Betty’s Bay, a coastal town east of Cape Town where the local people feel the penguins are getting out of hand, especially as the fences built to protect them have fallen into disrepair and the pushy birds have started taking up residence in suburban yards. According to a report on CNN (video above), Betty’s Bay residents have had enough of the stinky birds and their constant noise, which they say keeps them awake at night. These birds are loud. “African penguins are also called jackass penguins because of their donkey-like bray,” says the Encyclopedia of Life on its web page about them.


African penguins on Boulders Beach, near Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Nic Bothma/epa/Corbis


According to the Encyclopedia of Life, the species, Spheniscus demersus, breeds at 25 islands and four mainland sites in Namibia and South Africa. “In the 1980s, the species colonized Stony Point [the Betty’s Bay site] and Boulders Beach on the South African mainland, and recolonized Robben Island. Immigration to mainland sites in recent years has been attributed to an eastward shift in the species’s prey populations. Just seven islands now support 80 percent of the global population. Its population at the beginning of the 21st century had fallen to about 10 percent of its numbers 100 years before…Declines have continued, with the global population in 2009 estimated at just 25,262 pairs, equating to a decline of 60.5 percent over 28 years (three generations),” the Encyclopedia of Life says.

News Watch reported last year that a colony of African penguins living and breeding on a small island off the southern tip of Africa is fighting an increasingly desperate battle for survival. Their numbers are declining drastically despite the care of conservation organizations which have banded together to give them help, even by providing them with nesting homes to shelter them from the sun and to hide their eggs and chicks from sea gulls.

“Their plight is typical of the increasingly precarious situation of the species as a whole which last year shifted from Vulnerable to Endangered on the IUCN (World Conservation Union) Red List of Threatened Species,” News Watch correspondent Leon Marshall wrote. Read his post: African Penguin Colony at the Edge of Extinction.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

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  1. Ash10730
    United States
    May 24, 2013, 10:56 am

    George, yore an idiot, the penguins WERE there first so go home

  2. George
    Previosly Bettys bay
    February 13, 2013, 4:29 am

    The penguins were not there first It was the humans that killed the leopard that used to prey on the penguins. It was the local council that put up the fences and protected them to such a degree that they have become out of control. In Australia all the bush clearing for wheat planting has caused such a overpopulation of kangaroos that they have to be culled at a huge rate. Humans killed the dingos fertilized the land and brought in more permanent water for stock . Now kangaroos lie dead along the roads and are a pest . In the outback kangaroos are distributed as god intended.If there were no humans in Bettys Bay there would be very few penguins, and only the fittest would survive the predators.

  3. Ricardo
    January 17, 2013, 12:52 pm

    They should be left alone. That’s where they belong not somewhere they have to be forced to live. Poor penguins…… The people should move out I mean there is plenty of other locations. They can live somewhere else, but not the penguins!

  4. lepatata
    south africa
    January 12, 2013, 3:49 am

    imagine if those pinguins where like mogabe, who was gona say what to whom, people becareful this is nature we all belong somewhere and some are native to the land. leave the pinguins alone they belong in this land.

  5. Kimberly Wiltshire
    Mlalmö, Sweden
    January 10, 2013, 11:33 am

    Michael Walker your argument is ridiculous. Basically we as humans are insuring our own extinction with the blatant disregard and overly simplified arguments such as yours. Humans are in fact an infestation.

  6. Riley
    January 8, 2013, 1:51 pm


  7. alepenguin
    December 4, 2012, 9:26 pm


  8. Christian Rene Friborg
    December 4, 2012, 7:51 pm

    That is indeed terrible. I hope people who are pro-animal welfare can do something about it to preserve the life of these poor penguins

  9. Michael Walker
    Springfield IL, U.S.A.
    November 30, 2012, 2:26 am

    Ah the sheep and their ignorance of ecology and nature! Some of you sheep are so funny, @ MYRNA GOFF & Mike. You sheep are so misinformed about natural processes.
    1. Extinction is a natural process.
    2. almost every living thing on earth that ever lived is now extinct.
    3. Most extinction occurs from more adaptable extant species out competing more specialized organisms. Humans causing the extinction of species is no different than say for example from the Great American Interchange (the demise of the south american marsupials to the north american placentals) or Dinosaurs nearly causing the extinction of mammals (yes mammals came before dinos!)
    4. Conservation is a joke. It pathetically tries to thwart evolution, but in the end is a failed gesture. Conservation success stories are merely temporary.
    5. Most of your donations to conservation efforts end up in the hands of corrupt officials or warlords for weapons.

    Don’t worry so much about these creatures let nature sort it out. We are just a tool of nature ourselves!

  10. cal
    united kingdom
    November 19, 2012, 5:52 pm

    i agree leave them alone and also see if they are injured take care of them and return them home i hope none of them are hurt

  11. christian
    November 19, 2012, 2:03 am

    oh no

  12. amberkingmiddleton
    cell _phone
    November 15, 2012, 6:33 pm

    kingambermiddleton age 8

  13. sohail
    November 14, 2012, 8:00 am

    so niche

  14. Belinda
    Betty's Bay
    November 14, 2012, 6:03 am

    The “Town” and “Residents” of Betty’s Bay are not fed up with the penguins, there are one or two local residents who are fed up, pack your bags and go…

  15. Jane Rosenthal
    South Africa
    November 14, 2012, 4:33 am

    Some of Betty’s Bay’s residents and visitors are famously intolerant of seabirds. Endangered oyster catchers are harrassed every year by dogs and dogwalkers… though I support the idea of walking dogs on the beach, people have to wake up and learn to share especially when they are latecomers to the scene. Don’t like wildlife? Stay in the city.!! Betty’s Bay has some of the loveliest unspoilt beaches in SA.

  16. saintosh
    November 13, 2012, 11:34 pm

    evacuate in favour of them.

  17. arnab mukherjee
    November 13, 2012, 11:27 pm

    Animals and birds have equal if not more right over our planet! We must learn to live with them. If you don’t like the noise please move!

  18. David
    United Kingdom
    November 13, 2012, 8:14 pm

    This is yet another classically hypocritical example of NIMBY ( not in my backyard ), with certain locals now being so dreadfully ” inconvenienced ” by these penguins returning to areas where they would have roosted for generations before the human interlopers turned the whole coastline into a suburban sprawl of holiday / retirement homes, blighting the natural scheme of things. Yet these very same complainers rubbed their hands in glee at the sounds of ringing cash registers in their town, generated by eco-tourists ? Hipocrites, one and all, sad examples of all thats wrong and least praiseworthy in the human condition. Yet, chances are, they are absolutely hugely committed to supporting and protesting on conservation issues that are a ” safe ” distance away, ideally nothing that involves actual involvement, or effort. Those whiners who want things both ways do not deserve sharing space with these birds ( who are also being systematically starved into extinction by insatiable human greed in plundering the oceans ). Whatever became of mankind being granted stewardship over all other living beings on this earth , I wonder ?

  19. Chris
    Barrie, ON Canada
    November 13, 2012, 8:11 pm

    Why is this such a big enough problem that CNN had to cover it? Fix the fences and move on. One comment in the CNN video bothered me when they said the new population of penguins came from only 2 pairs reintroduced there several years ago. That doesn’t seem to give them much genetic diversity to work with but they don’t seem to be suffering from it.

  20. don
    November 13, 2012, 8:06 pm

    thats what will happen if we live near to a wild penguin area. world aint suitable more for the wild endangered species.. causes ” human “.

    November 13, 2012, 7:59 pm

    The penguins and all the rest of the animals in our world probably feel that we human’s are getting “out of hand” polluting their water, their land and ruining their breeding grounds…

  22. Gisele
    November 13, 2012, 7:59 pm

    Leave the penguins, that’s their habitat.. and also they are so cute!

  23. Tintinkie
    Cape Town
    November 13, 2012, 1:07 am

    Step 1) take perfume or cologne
    Step 2) take finger
    Step 3) spray a little on finger
    Step 4) rub fragranced finger across bottom of nostrils, problem solved

  24. Mike
    Penguins were there before man
    November 13, 2012, 12:41 am

    Please remember that the penguins were there before us.We are the invaders. You dont like the noise and the stink, then move elsewhere.