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African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

African Penguins at Henry Vilas Zoo

About African Penguin

Every October, the zoo celebrates African Penguin Awareness Day to raise awareness for African Penguin conservation efforts. This is through a strong partnership with the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). Learn more about their efforts here!


African penguins live on 24 rocky islands along the southwestern coast of Africa. The largest colony is located on Dyer Island and they are densely distributed around cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Benguela Current.


These carnivores eat ocean fish like anchovies and sardines, as well as some squid, shellfish, and crustaceans.

Family Life

Male and female penguins tend to breed together for life, starting at an average age of four years. A female will lay two eggs and incubate them for 40 days, though on average, only one egg will hatch. Hatchlings then remain with parents until they are three to five months old. Chicks leave the colony but return a few years later to shed into their adult plumage.

Conservation Status

The conservation status of the African Penguin's conservation status is classified as endangered.
Endangered graphic


  • Food shortages are a major threat to African penguins due to their often cold environments.
  • During the 20th century, human disturbances caused a population decline. Their guano, accumulated excrement, was collected for fertilizer, reducing nesting habitats. Eggs were also collected for food.

Facts about African Penguin

  • Class:
    Aves (birds)
  • Order:
    Sphenisciformes (flightless birds)
  • Family:
  • Genus:
  • Species:
    Spheniscus demersus (African penguin)
  • Life Span:
    10 – 15 years
  • Size:
    24 – 27 inches (60 – 68 cm)
  • Weight:
    4.4 – 11 pounds (2 – 5 kg)

Fun Facts

  • African penguin’s calls sound like a donkey! They have three calls: bray, yell, and haw.
  • Penguins have more feathers than most birds – up to 80 per square inch! These feathers protect them from the cold water around them.
  • African penguins lose their feathers once a year, which takes about 20 days. During this time, they cannot swim or eat and lost almost half their body weight.
  • They are believed to be one of the first penguin species to be discovered by humans.

We save species. You can help.

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