African Penquin Satellite Tracking

African Penquin Satellite Tracking

Dear Clubs

Please find attached a media release on important work that we’ve started. We’ve built an interactive website that allows users to follow the progress of the birds.

Click on to follow the birds.


African Penguin Satellite Tracking Project launched

Cape Town, 8 September 2013. BirdLife South Africa, the only national, dedicated bird conservation non-governmental organisation and member of BirdLife International, initiated the second phase of its African Penguin Satellite Tracking Project (APST Project), at Dassen Island, just of the west coast of Cape Town over the weekend. The project team was joined by media representatives and partner GreenMatter, championing biodiversity skills development.

Globally there are fewer than 30,000 breeding pairs. One hundred years ago, Dassen Island was the largest African Penguin colony in the world, with an estimated one million breeding pairs. There are currently fewer than 4000 breeding pairs at Dassen Island. This represents a loss of almost 200 pairs a week, over a period of 100 years! With that trend continuing, some colonies are shrinking by 20% each year.

“The APST Project responds firstly to the plight of the African Penguin as an endangered species that has exhibited a recent population collapse. Secondly, the African Penguin is an indicator to marine ecosystem health and their decrease is a warning signal for the economy, quality of life, jobs
and other social impacts” says Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager, BirdLife South Africa, and the African Coordinator for the Global Seabird Programme.

For this round of research, the project team will look at where adult penguins go after breeding; later they will follow birds once they’ve completed their annual moult. By knowing where they go, the project team can determine if they are likely to come into competition for food with the sardine and anchovy fishery and if implementing special management areas around islands, or elsewhere, will aid in supporting marine ecosystem health.

“Our marine environment is under enormous pressure and the African Penguin’s collapse is largely the result of human activities. In response to these issues, BirdLife South Africa has prioritised the APST research. The research involves using small Geographical Positioning System (GPS) devices attached to breeding penguins to investigate foraging ranges (where they look for food) and constraints faced by penguins during breeding. They are similar to a car’s GPS navigation system, but transmit positions to a network of satellites, which then transmit the positional information back to earth. These data are accessed daily, allowing the project team to track the birds’ movements in real time.

Each small device costs R30,000. The BirdLife International African Penguin Species Champion, the Charl van der Merwe Trust, provided funds for 20 devices and covered the costs for satellite uplinks.

“In preparation for the upcoming Save our Seabirds (SOS) Festival that takes place every year during National Marine Week, BirdLife South Africa has developed a website to provide access to the real-time movements of the penguins for youth and those interested in learning more about this amazing seabird. BirdLife South Africa and GreenMatter will be developing a game, linked to the APST Project for high school and university students that will be launched at the upcoming SOS Festival. The game will provide experiential learning about a serious issue in a fun and interactive format, instilling environmental values in the next generation of leaders,” states Wanless.


For further information, please contact: Dr Ross Wanless, Seabird Division Manager, BirdLife South Africa; Telephone: 021 419 7347, Mobile: 084 622 2424, E-mail: Royalty-free images are available on request.

Please circulate this widely, and especially please inform your members, we’re sure that many will enjoy watching where the penguins choose to go! But hopefully they’ll be informed about the critical conservation work that we’re doing for this Endangered species. There will be a few more announcements about this year’s SOS Festival, which has grown again, and will include elements that high school and university students will hopefully find fun and informative.



Dr Ross M. Wanless
Seabird Division Manager

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