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African Penguin

(Spheniscus demersus)


Listed as Vulnerable by the 2004 IUCN Red List. 120,000 individuals are left in the world (down 90 percent from 60 years ago). African penguins only breed on twenty-four islands offshore between Namibia and Port Elizabeth, South Africa, and there are colonies of penguins on the mainland at Betty's Bay and Simonstown, South Africa, and in Namibia. Oil spills, over fishing of surrounding waters by people, and natural competition and predation from seals and straw-necked ibis are the primary threats to the African penguin's survival.


Individuals communicate to one another by using a squawking sound similar to the braying of a donkey.

Amazing Facts:

African Penguins do not like the cold. Because they are from the southern tip of Africa, they like warm weather. Penguins are often grouped with animals that inhabit Polar Regions. However, of the world's 17 species of penguins, only two (Adelies and Emperors) stay yearlong in the South Pole. African penguins can dissipate heat through their flippers, feet, and open beak. It is believed that penguins descended from an ancestor that could fly but that they evolved toward a more aquatic lifestyle. Unlike flying birds, the penguins have solid, heavy bones and their feet are situated so far back on their bodies that they stand upright. Penguins' feet are not used for paddling, as in other aquatic birds, but rather are used like a rudder for steering while the wings are used to "fly" through the water. The stiff, powerful wings of penguins have strong, float bones, which enable then to "fly" underwater. They serve as paddles. African penguins can remain under water 14 seconds for every second that they spend taking a breath and can dive to depths of 427 feet.


African penguins are monogamous birds - meaning they have one mate for several breeding seasons, even up to 10 years. They have an extended breeding season; and in most colonies, breeding pairs can be found at almost any time of year. 2-3 eggs are usually laid, although it is not common for all of the offspring to survive. The eggs are incubated for 5 weeks by both parents, penguins may use a special fold of skin extending from the stomach to cover the eggs and keep them warm. African penguins live in colonies, hunt together and may look for food 50 km from their nesting grounds. African penguins spend most of the day in the water and spend the cool nights on land.

General Description:

These birds range from 30-100 cm tall. African penguins are black on their dorsal side, face, flippers, and the top of their head. Their front and side parts of the head and torso are white. There are black horseshoe-shaped stripes along their chest and sides of their head. African penguins are shaped similar to a bowling pin, and have webbed feet. African penguins have been adapted well to life in temperate climates considering their excess insulation.

Knoxville Zoo currently houses 13 African Penguins, 7 males and 6 females.


Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Struthionidae
Genus: Spheniscus
Species: demersus

Habitat and Range: Coastal areas and islands of the southern tip of Africa
Diet: 94% fish, 5% squid and 1% crustaceans
Incubation: 5 weeks
Range: Off of the coast of South Africa in warmer climates
Longevity: 15-20 years
Weight: Between 2.4 and 3.6 kg with the males typically being larger than the females.