The highlight for many visitors to Cape Town is visiting the African Penguin colony at Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town, for obvious reasons. You do not have to travel to the South Pole to see penguins in the wild…

Here are some interesting facts about our penguins

  • There is only one species of penguin, the African black-footed penguin that is native to Africa, residing mostly in South Africa and Namibia. In total, though, there are 17 species that are dotted all over the southern hemisphere, with one even called the Macaroni penguin.
  • Boulders Beach is one of only two mainland penguin colonies in South Africa, the other being Stony Point in Betty’s Bay. All other colonies are on islands off shore.
  • African penguins have been nicknamed “Jackass” penguins, because their call is similar to that of a donkey.
  • Although not very graceful on land, their top speed is around 20km/h when hunting, but they are most comfortable when swimming between 4-7km/h.
  • Jackass penguins stay with the same mate for life, and the couple returns to the same colony and nesting site each year.
  • The Boulders Beach penguins originally set up their breeding colony in 1982.
  • They eat mainly fish like anchovies, pilchards, sardines, mackerel and herrings, but will also occasionally eat squid and shellfish.
  • African penguins stand between 60-70cm tall, and weigh between 2.2-3.5kg.
  • These penguins’ deepest dives can be up to 130m but they typically don’t go beneath 25-30m. These shorter dives can last about 69 seconds, but a dive as long as 275 seconds has been recorded – 4 minutes 35 seconds. The average person can only hold their breath for up to 2 minutes!
  • An African Penguin’s lifespan is between 10 to 27 years although in captivity they have been known to live until the age of 30.
  • At sea they are hunted by fur seals and sharks, while on land they can be hunted by smaller animals like mongooses, domestic cats, gulls and Caracals.
  • The pattern of dots on an African penguin’s chest is unique to every individual penguin, just like every person’s fingerprints are unique to them.
  • African penguins drink salt water which is filtered through a gland, and they then sneeze out the salt.
  • Conservationists are currently trying to increase the numbers of penguins in South Africa by attracting them to potential new colony sites in De Hoop and Plettenberg bay. To do this they are using decoy penguins to trick the real penguins into thinking that birds are already nesting in those areas.
  • The African penguin population has fallen by a massive 99% since 1900, is classified as endangered and falls under the protected species list in South Africa. Only about 50 000 of the little guys are left!

Help save our African penguins by ‘adopting’ your own penguin or penguin egg that will be rehabilitated and released back into the wild by the dedicated staff at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB)

Visit their website at to adopt your very own penguin.

Words and Images by Luke Sadler

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