By Madison Wallace, Newport Aquarium PR Aide
NEWPORT, Ky. — If you’ve been to Newport Aquarium, you’ve probably heard about, or even met, one of our beloved African penguins.
Oct. 17 is the perfect day to celebrate these birds with African Penguin Awareness Day, a day dedicated to raising awareness for African penguins and the factors threatening their species.
“African Penguin Awareness Day is an opportunity for us to celebrate these unique birds, along with bringing awareness to their status as an endangered species,” said Ric Urban, chief conservation officer at Newport Aquarium and resident penguin expert.
This international holiday was established by Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), an organization supported by the WAVE Foundation, Newport Aquarium’s nonprofit partner.
One of SANCCOB’s most significant projects is known as chick bolstering and involves the rescue, rehabilitation and eventual release of African penguin chicks that have been orphaned or injured.
In the wild, these warm-weather penguins can be found living in colonies on the coastal islands that dot the shore of South Africa and Namibia.
They prefer to eat anchovies, sardines and the occasional mollusk, and generally consume 14 percent of their weight in fish daily; the equivalent of a 150-pound person eating 21 pounds of food a day!
What you may not know is that these adorable, tuxedoed birds are endangered.
In the past century, the population of African penguins has plummeted from several million to roughly 30,000 as a result of pollution, global warming, egg harvesting and overfishing off the coast of southern Africa.
This species needs our help.
“If nothing changes, we could see African penguins disappear completely within the next couple of decades,” said Urban.
With an estimated 1,000 African penguins under professional animal care globally, it’s essential that zoos and aquariums across the world work together to help this species in recovering. Because of their drastic population decline, African penguins were one of the first 10 animals named to the Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ SAFE (Saving Animals From Extinction) program that launched in May 2015.
Newport Aquarium is home to eight African penguins — Paula, Randi, Simon, Sandy, Speckles, Blueberry, Green Bean and Red Pepper — all of whom were hand-raised, allowing them to bond with humans more easily. This makes them ideal for helping to educate the public about their species.
The African penguins at Newport Aquarium. (L-R): Speckles, Paula, Red Pepper, Green Bean (back), Simon (back), Sandy, Randi, Blueberry
As ambassador animals for Newport Aquarium, our African penguins aren’t on exhibit, but guests can meet them by going on a Penguin Encounter, which allows guests to interact with these birds in small groups, along with opening up discussion about this threatened species.
“African Penguins are naturally inquisitive and social,” said Urban. “They’re very curious about people, making them amazing outreach animals. It’s almost impossible to see an African penguin waddling around and not smile in response. There’s something about these birds that people just connect to.”
While both Newport Aquarium and the WAVE Foundation have brought awareness to these birds through community outreach, monetary contributions and knowledge exchange, we need your help.
For African Penguin Awareness Day, there are many simple ways for everyone to help the future of these birds:
• Experience a Penguin Encounter at Newport Aquarium; a portion of Penguin Encounter ticket proceeds directly to SANCCOB
• Purchase Penguin Artwork (art by penguins, not of penguins) from the WAVE Foundation; a portion of proceeds benefit African penguins
• Visit SANCCOB’s website and donate directly to the seabird conservation efforts
• Spend a couple minutes learning about African penguins, and start the conversation with those around you
These penguins need our help every day, but African Penguin Awareness Day is a great place to start.
Newport Aquarium has showcased thousands of animals from around the world in a million gallons of water since May 15, 1999. Named one of the best aquariums in the U.S. by Travel Channel and USA Today, Newport Aquarium is a Herschend Family Entertainment company and an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Newport Aquarium is open to the public 365 days a year and located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati at Newport on the Levee.
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