My name’s Tom Parry. I’m a Masters student studying wildlife filmmaking at the University of West
England, in partnership with the BBC’s Natural History Unit here in Bristol. For my course I’m
going to be producing a short documentary, which will be screened to industry professionals in
the BBC and other independent production companies later in the year.
So I’ve decide to head to Africa… to film penguins! This summer I’ll be travelling to Cape Town
where I’m going to make a film about one of my absolute favourite animals, and one I’ve never
had the privilege of seeing in the wild – the African penguin. And I’m going to have to get a move
on, because you see, time’s running out for Africa’s only penguin. Here are the figures:
• Their numbers are plummeting, having dropped by more than two thirds in less than fifteen
• At the beginning of the 19th century there were roughly 4-million penguins in Africa – by
1978 that number had fallen to about 82,000 pairs, and further dropped to just 25,000 in 2015
• In 2010, the species was added to the IUCN Red List, newly classified as “endangered”
• Recently, scientists from the University of Cape Town warned that unless the decline is halted,
the African penguin could be extinct from the entire continent by 2026 – just 8 years from now
Just to put all that into context, these fantastic animals have been living and thriving on the shores
of Africa for millions of years and hundreds of thousands of generations. But the current decline is
so fast, that these birds could actually see their entire species wiped within their own brief
But hope isn’t lost! There’re a lot of incredibly dedicated, hard-working and inspirational people
working tirelessly to help these animals and stabilise existing populations, and I know the guys
here at Penguin Corner support SANCCOB, SAPREC and SAMREC. But in 2016 a team of
conservationists from BirdLife South Africa began hatching a brand new plan to save the
penguins on the Western Cape. In a unique and ambitious project, they are setting out to do
something that has never been done before – create a new African Penguin colony!
There’s a reason the team chose to do this, and it’s because these penguins face a very specific
problem. African penguins generally need to breed on islands, because the isolation keeps them
safe from terrestrial predators like leopards and caracals. But along the South African coastline
there is a 600km gap between the western and eastern islands where the penguins are breeding.
When a species is struggling like the African penguin, it’s crucial to maintain as much connectivity
between existing populations as possible. As groups become isolated and population sizes
shrink, genetic diversity shrinks and the animals become even more vulnerable to catastrophic
events like oil spills. But even more pressing than that, the western population that SANCCOB
work with is now facing food scarcity as the sardines they rely upon for food are shifting east
towards the gap in the penguin distribution.
“The penguins need all the help they can get. Establishing new mainland colonies are immensely
important management interventions.”
BirdLife South Africa chief executive, Mark Anderson
The BirdLife team are trying to create new colonies at two sites along the 600km gap where fish
abundance is high, one at De Hoop Nature Reserve and one at Plettenberg Bay. But unfortunately
there are no islands where the penguins could normally breed at either site – so they’re having to
get creative!! Protecting the penguins from land-based predators will be a key part of the process,
by trying to create a predator-free “island” of land on the mainland. The work is starting at De
Hoop Nature Reserve where they will use a set of techniques called “passive attraction” as a first
step, before potentially releasing penguins at the site. This involves creating a simulated penguin
colony, using decoys and call playback that will attract birds by tricking them into thinking
penguins are already breeding there.
“With the drastic decreases in the penguin population we’ve seen recently, we’re very concerned
about the future of these colonies so we think this, if it works, will be a boost to the African
Christina Hagen, Pamela Isdell Fellow of Penguin Conservation at BirdLife South Africa
It can be depressing reading about the decline of the natural world, as we seem to be doing more
and more with each passing day. But I take comfort from the efforts of people that stand up for
animals in the face of declining numbers, and the increasingly imaginative approaches they are
taking in tough times. I want to get out there and film a team of conservationists doing exactly
that, do my bit to educate people about the effects we are having on the natural world and
hopefully inspire some to help save one Africa’s most overlooked residents.
I’m currently crowdfunding for my film at
and I’d be extremely grateful for any support you can offer. Be sure to check out the array of
personalised perks on the right hand side and, once again, thank you!