Fish, crabs, sardines, and other things found while sea diving
The African penguin gets its name from its geographic habitat. It is also known as the black-footed penguin, and as the donkey penguin, because of its voice, which sounds like a donkey’s bray.
To hunt for food in the sea, penguins have developed the impressive ability to swim long distances and dive to depths of up to 130 meters. While penguins are water-dwelling birds, they distinctly differ from birds in several ways: their bones are heavy and dense (as opposed to birds, which require hollow and light bones to fly), they use their legs to navigate, and their wings are not used for flight but for swimming and diving. One could say that penguins fly in water.
While searching for food, penguins travel far distances from the shore, swimming up to tens or even hundreds of kilometers. The singles of the group remain in the sea for several months at a time.
Penguins are a flock species and are monogamous (with permanent partners). The breeding process is interesting: the female lays one to two eggs, and the couple shares the incubation of the eggs in shifts. After roughly 40 days, the chick hatches, is covered in feathers, and its eyes are open. The parents share the daily care responsibilities for the chicks for a period of 70 – 100 days. It is interesting to note that there are species of penguins which establish a kind of “nursery” and share joint responsibilities for the care of their chicks together. After the chick matures, it leaves its parents to spend a year at sea. Only after a year does it return to land, shed its feathers, and begin its life as a mature penguin.
Flocks of penguins can number in the tens of thousands of individual members. Breeding and raising chicks happen on land, when the tropical species of penguins (like our African penguin) nest in tunnels they dig in the earth, within niches of rock and under vegetation that protects the eggs and chicks from the scorching sun.
One of the largest threats to entire populations of penguins in the beginning of the 20th Century was collecting penguins for display at zoos. Today, zoos maintain many breeding groups, coordinated between various zoos, so that the populations in the wild will be preserved by a backup of populations in captivity. Today, zoos use tools to assist in protecting penguins, including the field of publicity and raising awareness of the topics of nature conservation, as well in the fields of research, breeding, and in active nature conservation. The Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has contributed and continues to contribute toward the rescue of penguins in the wild. In 2000, the Biblical Zoo participated in a mission to rescue the African penguin. Their habitat on the shores of South Africa were polluted by a major oil spill, the result of the sinking of the Treasure oil tanker in June 2000 along the coast of Capetown. Two members of the Biblical Zoo staff travelled to aid in the rescue of tens of thousands of penguins who were harmed. The zoo employees directly treated 1,000 chicks, saved from critical condition, whose parents were also harmed and unable to care for their offspring.
The penguins at the zoo have been born in captivity, and this group came to us from a zoo in Holland. They are part of the European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA) program for protecting this species. We maintain the group in accordance with the program for joint preservation of all penguins at zoos throughout Europe.
Threats: oil pollution, lack of food due to overfishing, infiltration of new predators brought by humans to penguin habitats, egg collection, and mining of guano (penguin droppings) for use as fertilizer.