An Unusual Discovery Reveals Honey Bees Responsible For Further Endangering African Penguins

On the 20th of September, 63 dead African Penguins were discovered at Boulder Beach, a world-famous tourist site outside Cape Town, the oldest and second-largest city of South Africa. After researchers found the penguins, they took the bodies to the South African Foundation for Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). In the initial investigation, researchers believed a predator, such as a seal, was responsible for these grisly deaths. However, after a thorough examination, marine biologist Dr. Allison Kock reported to the New York Times that there were multiple bee stings “around the eyes and on their flippers.” 

According to David Roberts, a clinical veterinarian and member of the conservation, “this is a very rare occurrence. We do not expect it to happen often, it’s a fluke. There were also dead bees on the scene.” In a report by NBC, Dr. Katrin Ludynia, a research manager at the conservation centre, labelled this as a “freak accident.” 

The loss of these healthy and majestic birds was “quite a blow for the Boulders colony, and the species are already in trouble,” said SANCCOB in a press release statement. They further added that their “rangers and SANParks [experts] -Table Mountain National Park will monitor the nests in the area as some of these birds would have had eggs and chicks, and one partner can’t supply sufficient food or leave the chicks alone.” Boulder Beach had become a world-famous tourist site for tourists to observe the penguins. It also served as a national reserve for the species.

Results of a toxicology report are still pending as researchers ran a screening to detect potential toxins or poisons that could have also contributed to the cause of death. 

The African penguins are scientifically known as Spheniscus demersus or as the jackass penguin. They are not native to the coasts of Cape Town, unlike the honey bees, thus resulting in researchers believing that the penguins accidentally got in the way of the bees’ nesting grounds. However, both species can co-exist as they contribute significantly to the ecosystem.

According to the South African National Biodiversity Institute, the African honeybees “are used to pollinate about 50 crops across South Africa, including sunflower seeds and subtropical fruit found in the northern region of South Africa.” Meanwhile, the African penguins play a vital role in providing direction for “marine resources and ecosystem changes.” They are also the top prey for predators such as seals and sharks. 

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List declares these mammals to be critically endangered. Over the past 20 years, the total number of the species has dropped from 80,000 to 26,000 – a 73% loss of the population. Recent reports indicate that only 41,700 penguins are remaining. Back in 1892, the first breeding pairs of these penguins were found by researchers, and since then, two devastating oil spills in 1994 and 2000, have caused the death of more than 30,000 penguins. Commercial fishing, environmental fluctuations, and mortality from fishing have been leading causes of death, according to the IUCN.

Experts and activists have been scrambling to implement and enforce additional resources that will effectively preserve the decreasing population. The penguins are currently protected by the Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), and the Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). The establishment of wildlife reserves, ongoing research to monitor population growth, and artificial care of abandoned chicks have been shown to steady the population of penguins.

Acknowledging the legitimacy and urgent attention surrounding climate change is the first step in helping these mammals. Next, people can donate to organizations like the SANCCOB, Dyer Island Conservation Trust, and the South African Marine Rehabilitation and Education Centre (SAMREC). If humanity continues to fail its climate as it has in the past, these magnificent creatures will become yet another statistic of extinct species that we could have saved with our resources and determination to make this world a better place.


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