The New England Aquarium has joined an international partnership to protect endangered African penguins as the population rapidly declines in its home country.
The aquarium announced its new partnership with Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) this week, just ahead of African Penguin Awareness Day on Saturday. The organization’s mission is to protect species threatened by eradication.
African penguins are considered endangered due to a rapid decline in their population resulting from overfishing, habitat degradation and oil spills, according to wildlife experts.
The aquarium is home to a colony of 39 African penguins, more than half of which live beyond the average lifespan in their natural environment. The colony welcomed a new addition this year: a male chick named Bray.
Although the aquarium’s population of African penguins is thriving, experts estimate the wildlife could disappear from southwest South Africa within the next 12 years.
“The top priority of our African penguin colony is the highest level of daily animal care, welfare, enrichment and training, in addition to a thoughtful breeding program. With the rapid decline of current wild populations of African penguins, we are committed to conservation efforts for these incredible birds and feel honored to join the SAFE program,” said Kristen McMahon, curator of pinnipeds and penguins at the Aquarium.
According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which founded SAFE in 2015, the program improves disaster response protocols for oil spills and builds artificial nests for birds. More than 30 other facilities have joined forces to protect African penguins.
As part of the SAFE program, the aquarium will promote educational opportunities for visitors touring its penguin habitat and continue its breeding plans to promote sustainable population management of the species. He will also participate in conservation field work with the Southern African Coastal Bird Conservation Foundation (SANCCOB) in Cape Town and Gqeberha, South Africa. According to aquarium officials, SANCCOB provides rehabilitation and veterinary services to African penguins and other seabirds, with an emphasis on conservation education and research projects.
“For the past 20 years, the New England Aquarium has played an important role in the African Penguin Species Survival Plan (SSP). Through their expertise and cooperation, they have contributed greatly to the extremely successful genetic management of this species at AZA zoos and aquariums,” said SAFE African Penguin Secretary Gayle Sirpenski, an animal management specialist at Mystic Aquarium. “Their dedication to African penguin conservation is taking an exciting new direction by becoming a partner in the SAFE African Penguin program, and I am truly thrilled to have the Aquarium as a new SAFE partner.”
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