We often visit the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach on our Peninsula tours and yet never tire of seeing these cute creatures, Cape Town’s most famous little penguins with their tuxedoed waddle. One of the most amusing aspects of observing them is that they seem to not notice the humans at all. It’s as if we are invisible. Despite the chatter, the crowds and the occasional person trying desperately to get their attention with little noises akin to calling a cat or a dog. It doesn’t work – they stand and stare everywhere but at us.
I’m never there at sunrise which I know is great for fabulous photographs but my favourite time of day is late afternoon when the light is lovely and the crowds have left. Less people means one can watch them for longer without having to give someone a turn at the viewing deck – yes, it gets that crowded because these little chaps are very popular.
Observing them for a while gives you the chance to note their behaviour. How they protect their eggs from unwanted attention, how they stand around in very obvious couples, the way they prepare their nests, and the occasional clumsy tripping over their own feet or a piece of algae. In the water, they are more graceful and are often confused with ducks.
A few African penguin facts:
- After a massive decline in the global population, mainly the result of eggs being eaten by humans and guano collecting, the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach has been a protected one since the 80s when a group of school children found some eggs and their teacher was clever enough to realise what a marvellous find this was. This unique land-based colony is endangered but there are approximately 3000 penguins.
- They have a lifespan of about 10 years and start breeding at about 4 years, usually laying 2 eggs and both parents sharing the incubation job. The viewing beach at Boulders is only accessible via a boardwalk but the nearby beaches allow for safe swimming where you are likely to encounter some penguins in the water.
- March is when Boulders will be full of baby penguins. They’re mating and laying eggs right now.
- Annually, they moult and during the 3 week period that this lasts they cannot go to sea so they eat a lot in advance. This results in some very fat penguins who expend as little energy as possible, and who look very strange. Look closely between rocks and you’ll see a huge quantity of discarded feathers.
- People are always surprised to see how little they are – they grow to about 60cm tall
- It’s hard to tell difference between males and females, but males are a little bigger
- They can dive very deeply but generally go to about 30 metres and can hold their breath for about 2,5 minutes
- In addition to the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach, the other colonies near Cape Town are Stony Point at Betty’s Bay and Robben Island.
For regular updates on life at Boulders and a steady supply of photographs- check out the Facebook page for What’s the Point.