WASHINGTON (CN) – No parts of five foreign penguins may be shipped to or from the United States, under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service determination to protect them under the Endangered Species Act. The agency has found the species are likely to become in danger of extinction within the foreseeable future, so have listed them as threatened.
As threatened, the foreign Humboldt penguin, yellow-eyed penguin, white-flippered penguin, Fiordland crested penguin and erect-crested penguin may not be harassed, harmed, pursued, hunted, shot, wounded, killed, trapped, captured or collected within the U.S. or on the high seas, unless it is specifically permitted, and the birds may not be transported into or out of the U.S., dead or alive.
Humboldt penguins, one of the five, prefer to nest in tunnels of guano on islands off the coasts of Peru and Chile. Harvest of guano for fertilizer has endangered the penguin’s survival, however, by exposing its eggs to predators, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s determination.
The damage to the penguin’s habitat was done between 1840 and 1880, when guano that took centuries to accrete to the depth needed for good penguin burrows was scraped away, down to the rocky substrate, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. The environmental group filed the original petition to list the Humboldt penguin under the act and later sued the agency when it failed to produce a final listing decision.
In a vicious circle, the Humboldt population has continued to decline over the last century as loss of eggs to predation and heat resulted in fewer penguins to leave guano for tunneling, leaving each generation more exposed than the one before it.
Peru created a guano extraction agency to regulate guano harvest, but the agency allows only a small amount to accumulate before permitting harvest. Studies reviewed by the agency have shown that the residual guano level is insufficient to properly protect penguin eggs.
The decline in anchovy populations, the primary food source of Humboldts, during El Nino cycles, is another threat the agency cites in its listing determination. In El Nino years, warm water replaces the normally colder nutrient rich waters of the Humboldt Current, resulting in lower plankton production, the anchovy’s primary food source.