Skip to content

Using Decoys to Save the African Penguin

At Boulders, just over an hour’s drive south of central Cape Town, African penguins swim, loaf around and breed within a few metres of visitors, who can even get into the water with them. Penguins normally nest on offshore islands, but this small beach is surrounded by houses which form a barrier to land-based predators such as caracal lynxes and baboons, making it a “pseudo island” where the birds feel safe. They have bred here since the early 1980s, and it’s now part of the Table Mountain national park. Spheniscus demersus is rapidly heading into extinction. The species, which only breeds in South Africa and neighbouring Namibia, numbered about 1.5–3 million in the early 20th century. That dropped to 300,000 by 1956, and the numbers kept on falling. In 2018, just 15,000 pairs were found breeding in South Africa, and last year that slumped further to 13,300 pairs. Researchers are pushing the traditional conservation envelope by trying to establish a new penguin colony on a stretch of the south coast of South Africa that has no offshore islands but is near some of the last remaining sardine stocks. They identified a small headland in De Hoop nature reserve and turned it into a pseudo island by cutting it off from the mainland with a predator-proof fence. In January last year they stocked it with skilfully made concrete replicas of penguins along with speakers playing penguin calls to try to lure passing birds into nesting there.