Photo special: African penguins at Toronto Zoo
African penguins are the newest exhibit at Toronto Zoo. I watched them being fed, while they were swimming at the surface and also through the under-water viewing windows.
While penguins are usually associated with the ice of Antarctica, there are also penguins that live in far more hospitable climates. The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is one such penguin species. They live in a narrow strip along the tip of southern Africa.
According to the information on the website of Toronto Zoo, African penguins eat mainly pelagic shoaling fish (fish that live in large groups, in the surface waters of the sea) such as pilchards and anchovies, but they also eat crustaceans and squid. They are being fed capelin and smelt at the zoo. Every day at 2:00 pm, the public can “Meet the Keeper”. One of the people responsible for the penguins will talk about these fascinating animals, and will feed them afterwards.
The zoo talks about the Africans penguins as “The endangered African penguin” because they seem to be going full steam ahead in the direction of extinction. They are red-listed by the IUCN. According to the IUCN, the population at the beginning of this century had declined to an estimated 10% of what it was in the early 1900s. There are now an estimated 52,000 mature individuals left, an alarming decline when we take into account that there were thought to be around 1,500,000 individuals on Dassen Island alone in 1900.
The initial causes for their decline are well-known: human activity. The guano (bird poop) is a very good fertiliser and it was heavily harvested in the past. However, the birds used to excavate their nests in the guano. As a result of its disappearance, they had to find other, and clearly less successful means to make their nests. Egg collecting was also a problem. These two activities have now largely stopped, but it is thought that the birds are still suffering from competition with commercial fisheries that are also interested in pelagic shoaling fish. Oil pollution is another important cause of their continuing decline.
The group I saw at Toronto Zoo consists of eight individuals. They are as cute as they come and they seem to be a very tight-knit group. When they swim, they swim as a group. When they dive, they dive as a group, and when they are being fed, they seem to be quite polite to each other. I have seen no fights among them for food, and what makes the feeding spectacle especially endearing, is that they seem to be patiently waiting until the keeper gives them a fish. There are no fights to get the fish out of the bucket. In all, they seem to be a very civilised bunch!
I made a few short video clips of the birds and I also made several dozen pictures. The ones I have posted have been chosen because I thought they were representative of what the visitor can expect to see. However, nothing can replace the experience of actually seeing the birds for oneself. I strongly encourage anyone to go and see this fabulous exhibit. Given that we currently have a mayor who is hostile to the zoo, your entrance fees will be more than welcome, and you’ll have a wonderful time.