African Penguins on Stamps

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The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the Black-footed Penguin is a species of penguin, confined to southern African waters. It is known as Brilpikkewyn in Afrikaans, Inguza or Unombombiya in Xhosa,Manchot Du Cap in French and Pingüino Del Cabo in Spanish. It is also widely known as the "Jackass" Penguin for its donkey-like bray, although several species of South American penguins produce the same sound. The African Penguin is a banded penguin, placed in the genus Spheniscus. The other banded penguins are the African Penguin's closest relatives, and are all found mainly in the Southern Hemisphere: the Humboldt Penguin and Magellanic Penguins found in southern South America, and the Galápagos Penguin found in the Pacific Ocean near the equator. All are similar in shape, colour and behaviour.

The genus to which the African Penguin belongs to, Spheniscus, derives from the Ancient Greek word sphen, which means ‘wedge’. This refers to their streamlined body shape. Its species name, demersus, is a Latin word for "plunging".

African Penguins grow to 68–70 cm tall and weigh between 2 and 5 kg. They have a black stripe and black spots on the chest, the pattern of spots being unique for every penguin, like human fingerprints. They have pink glands above their eyes, which are used for thermoregulation. The hotter the penguin gets, the more blood is sent to these glands so it may be cooled by the surrounding air, thus making the glands more pink. This species exhibits slight sexual dimorphism: the males are larger than the females and have larger beaks. The beak is more pointed than that of the Humboldt. Their distinctive black and white colouring is a vital form of camouflage– white for underwater predators looking upwards and black for predators looking down onto the dark water. This is called countershading.

The African Penguin is found on the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa and its presence gave name to the Penguin Islands. Two colonies were established by penguins in the 1980s on the mainland near Cape Town, namely Boulders Beach near Simon's Town and Stony Point in Betty's Bay. Mainland colonies probably only became possible in recent times due to the reduction of predator numbers, although the Betty's Bay colony has been attacked by leopards. The only other mainland colony is in Namibia, but it is not known when this was established.

The African Penguin is monogamous. It breeds in colonies, and pairs return to the same site each year. The African Penguin has an extended breeding season, with nesting usually peaking from March to May in South Africa, and November and December in Namibia. A clutch of two eggs are laid either in burrows dug in guano, or scrapes in the sand under boulders or bushes. Incubation is undertaken equally by both parents for about 40 days. At least one parent guards the chicks until about 30 days, whereafter the chick joins a creche with other chicks, and both parents head out to sea to forage each day.

Roughly 4 million penguins existed at the beginning of the last century. The total population fell to 200 000 in the year 2000; ten years later, in 2010, the number was estimated to be only at 55000. If this decline is not halted, the African Penguin is expected to be extinct within 15 years.5000 breeding pairs were estimated to live in Namibia in 2008; in 2009, about 21 000 pairs were estimated to live in South Africa

 

(Source of text: Wikipedia)

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