It’s World Penguin Day and we can’t wait to celebrate these black and white beauties in The Cotswolds. Admittedly our little corner of England isn’t often associated with these flightless birds, but there’s a colony of Humboldt Penguins just outside Burford at The Cotswold Wildlife Park – a favourite with the Zapp Active team and their kids.
Usually found along the coast of Chile and Peru, the Humboldt penguin is named after the cold strip of water it swims in - the Humboldt Current.
It’s not an easy life in the wild for these little guys, so it’s no surprise The International Union for Conservation of Nature has listed this species of penguin as ‘vulnerable’. Not only does it have many natural predators like seals, sea lions, sharks and killer whales, their eggs and chicks are at risk on land too and are often eaten by foxes, snakes and even cats and dogs.
The weather also poses a problem. When the temperature of the sea is raised due to the El Nino climate cycle, the penguins’ food supply is reduced.
Humans too play their part in the declining number of Humboldts. Commercial fishermen are attracted to the large fish populations in the highly fertile Pacific waters off South America and fishing there not only depletes the Humboldts' food source, it also kills many penguins who get tangled in the fishing nets.
Guano harvesting is also a huge problem. The penguins lay their eggs in burrows that they dig out of the thick layers of guano, which is a build-up of sea bird and seal droppings. Farmers also use it for fertilising crops and will harvest entire guano sites, destroying nests and disrupting colonies. Sadly, this leaves chicks and eggs abandoned and forces the penguins to build new nests in rocky outcrops, leaving them more vulnerable and exposed to predators.
But there is hope for the Humboldts!
Although the numbers of Humboldt penguins have been declining since the mid-19th century, people around the world are working hard to change that.
Since 1995, Chile has had a 30-year ban on the hunting and capture of Humboldts, and four of the major breeding colonies are protected. There are also special guano reserves in Peru where mining is limited, allowing the penguins to nest safely.
The Cotswold Wildlife Park is also doing their bit to help - they’re working with a charity called Sphenisco who’re dedicated to protecting Humboldt penguins in their native Chile and Peru. To celebrate World Penguin Day, you can help feed the penguins in the Walled Garden at 1pm for a £1 donation which will go to the charity. And if you can’t make it (or have an aversion to the smell of fish!), you can watch the penguins being fed on the Cotswold Wildlife Park’s live webcam!
Fun Facts about the Humboldt Penguin:
- Humboldt Penguins can actually blush! They have patches of bare, pink skin on their bodies and when it gets really hot, to avoid over-heating, they flush pink on their face, wings and feet. This sheds body heat by sending blood to the bare part of their bodies!
- When you see a Humboldt penguin preening their feathers, they’re not just doing it to look neat and tidy! They’re actually gathering oil from their preening gland and applying it to their feathers to keep them waterproof and insulate them from the cold.
- Each year the penguins moult and a new set of feathers replaces the old one. This process only takes ten days, with new feathers pushing out the old. During this time their bodies are no longer waterproofed or insulated properly, leaving the penguin unable to swim.
- A penguin’s tongue is covered with spines, which help it catch and hold onto its prey.
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picture credit, Cotswold Wildlife Park