WASHINGTON (CN) – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a final action listing the African penguin as endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
The penguin’s population has declined over 60 percent in the last 30 years.
The agency’s action is part of a settlement agreement with the Center for Biological Diversity which has argued throughout years of litigation that the Secretary of the Interior–which oversees the agency–was derelict in not deciding whether the African, and several other penguins should be protected.
At the beginning of the 20th century the population of African penguins was so large that more than a million were identified at just one breeding site off the coast of South Africa. At the turn of this century, however, it was estimated that there were only 32,000 breeding pairs left in the world.
The destruction of nesting habitat by the stripping of penguin guano for fertilizer is one of the leading causes of the population decline of non-arctic penguins all around the southern hemisphere. The penguins burrow in the accumulated guano to protect their hatchlings from predation and the weather.
Low-lying nesting breeding habitat is being inundated by coastal flooding caused by in-land deforestation, and a nearly 2 millimeter rise in sea level over the past 30 years.
African penguins also are threatened by El Nino weather events which cause warm sea water to move toward the South Pole, driving away the cold-water sardines that are the mainstay of the penguin’s diet.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service extended Endangered Species Act protections to five other species of penguins, and made it illegal to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, wound, kill, trap, collect or ship them into or out of the United States. The African penguin will now enjoy similar protections.