Why preserve penguins?


Five species of penguins are endangered, according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN): the African penguin, the Galapagos penguin, the Northern Rockhopper penguin, the yellow-eyed penguin and the Erect-crested penguin. If you consider that the number of penguin species is 17, they have a big problem!

Additionally, three are near threatened (NT), five are vulnerable (VU), and only five are the least concern (LC).*

*We are adding two of the rockhopper subspecies separately in this count.

The conservation status of the species is:
(Version 3.1 of the IUCN red list)

Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) – Near Threatened (NT)
King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) – Least Concern (LC)
Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) – Least Concern (LC)
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus) – Least Concern (LC)
Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) – Least Concern (LC)
Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) – Endangered (EN)
Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) – Vulnerable (VU)
African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) – Endangered (EN)
Magellanic Penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) – Near Threatened (NT)
Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) – Vulnerable (VU)
S. Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) – Vulnerable (VU)
N. Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi) – Endangered (EN)
Fiordland Penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) – Vulnerable (VU)
Snares Penguin (Eudyptes robustus) – Vulnerable (VU)
Erect-crested Penguin – (Eudyptes sclateri) – Endangered (EN)
Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) – Near Threatened (NT)
Little Blue Penguin – (Eudyptula minor) – Least Concern (LC)
Yellow-eyed Penguin – (Megadyptes antipodes) – Endangered (EN)

There are many reasons why most penguins are in problems. Hunting, overfishing that reduces their number of prey, global warming that melts the sea ice that serves them to nest, pollution of their habitat and many other threats. Now, there are also compelling reasons for humans to preserve these extraordinary animals.

What are they?

First, they are animals that are outstanding elements of the planet biodiversity. They are a piece of the evolution of this planet just like us. Also, they are a segment of the food chain. Without them, the species they feed on could increase their population uncontrollably, and their predators, such as leopard seals, could starve and begin to die, disrupting the whole chain.

If this does not seem enough, you have to know that penguins act as bioindicators of the ocean health. They travel to relatively distant areas to find food in the sea and then go back to their places of origin. The longer they take to return, the less marine resources are presumed to exist because of the difficulty in finding them, so monitoring their trips helps to control the health of the marine ecosystem.

Conservation Strategies

Many governments, nongovernmental organizations, educational institutions and individuals make significant contributions to preserving, first and foremost, the habitats of penguins and, consequently them. One of the earliest conservation achievements came at the beginning of the twentieth century when thousands of people protested against penguin hunting to get their fat and make oil. Thanks to these rallies and the availability of other types of oil, the penguin oil industry ended.

But what is done recently?

– Legal Protection.
All penguin species have legal protection from hunting and egg harvesting, which means that these activities are strictly prohibited, and their practice has legal consequences for those who do it. Guano collecting is also often prohibited within colonies to avoid the disturbance of populated areas.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the organization that regulates the species trade. The Appendix I includes penguins whose trade is completely banned, as in the case of the Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti), while Appendix II includes species that are not necessarily in danger of extinction but whose trade must be regulated, as in the case of the King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus).

Human disturbance is also strictly controlled.

-Creation of protected areas and wildlife refuges.
Many colonies are under protection from hunting and other types of disturbance, which, in addition to favoring penguins, helps other animals that share habitat with them. For example, in South Africa, all breeding areas of the African penguin are national parks or nature reserves, and the breeding islands of the macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) are also natural reserves, including the Heard and McDonald Islands which were declared Heritage of Humanity.

The protection of habitats began in 1900, and eventually, more areas got protection. In 1997, Macquarie Island got the distinction as Heritage of Humanity, and in 1924 the Kerguelen Islands were designated as National Park. For a penguin, living in a protected area increases its chances of survival.

– Breeding programs.
In the case of vulnerable and threatened species, the implementation of breeding programs, either in captivity or the wild has allowed increasing the births of individuals in a controlled environment, so that the success rate increases.

Some zoos, governments, and other organizations provide rehabilitation and medical assistance to those penguins who for some reason are found injured, lost or in danger. For example, when oil spills reach the waters where penguins swim, rescuers clean their plumage and keep them safe until the danger passes.

-Monitoring populations.
This procedure is crucial. Using technological devices such as satellites and cameras help scientists to know the status of a colony or an entire species. Thanks to this monitoring, experts can identify when penguins face problems and try to help them.

-Improvement of the management of Antarctica.
Although it is not home to all penguins, it is a region in danger due to global warming, which affects populations living there, such as those of the emperor penguin. In 1959, twelve nations signed the Antarctic Treaty to protect the continent and preserve its resources; also, this document states the prohibition of hunting penguins and harvesting their eggs.








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