Cold kills 500 penguins

2010-06-15 20:43

Pretoria - Nearly 500 African penguins died in 24-hours because of cold and wet weather at Algoa Bay in the Eastern Cape, SA National Parks (SanParks) said on Tuesday.

SanParks spokesperson Megan Taplin said: "The chicks, aged between a few weeks and two months, are covered only with down feathers. They succumbed to the cold and wet weather that has hit Bird Island."

It was common for a third of a penguin population's chicks to die in such weather conditions, she said.

However, with only 700 breeding pairs of African penguins on Bird Island, the death of over half the populations' chicks presents an "added threat" to the dwindling numbers of penguins.

The African penguin was recently reclassified as an endangered species because of its declining population across South Africa.

Taplin said rangers on the island were trying to rescue the remaining birds by giving them temporary shelters made from available materials on the island.

"They are also attempting to drain penguin nests which have filled up with water after about 20mm of rain on the island," she said.

Other penguins had died on St Croix Island near Port Elizabeth, home to 300 breeding pairs, the largest breeding colony of African penguins in South Africa.

Taplin said there had been no official count of the number of dead birds on St Croix because of rough seas, which had made it almost impossible to access the island.

She said park rangers hoped to reach the island by the end of the week.