New Technology Helps Protect South African Penguins
Scientists carrying out research on Robben Island are using an automatic recognition system that records patterns of spots on the chests of adult penguins by digital photography. The technique is still being tested and refined, but eventually it may be possible to monitor remotely more than 90 percent of the African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) on the island. This automated system will help to eliminate the need to band penguins, except for specific purposes such as measuring chick survival rates, when flipper bands will still need to be used.
The African penguin is now an endangered species
Earthwatch scientists in South Africa are introducing a cutting-edge automatic penguin recognition system that will reduce the need for potentially harmful banding of birds.
Professor Peter Barham, lead scientist on the Earthwatch project on Robben Island, referring to research carried out by French scientists who had found that king penguins had 40 percent fewer chicks if they were banded and lived shorter lives, said, “There have been several studies on the effect of banding on African penguins and magellanic penguins which have been unable to find any significant differences between banded and unbanded penguins when it comes to breeding success. There are, however, other impacts of banding, which is one reason why we want to introduce the recognition system to replace banding where possible. From time to time, for example, we find African penguins trapped by their bands.”
The Earthwatch team in South Africa is also playing an important role in drawing up the first National Biodiversity Management Plan for the African penguin. Professor Peter Barham, Professor Les Underhill, Dr. Robert Crawford, and Mario Leshoro contributed to a three-day workshop in Arniston in the Western Cape in October 2010. The event was facilitated by CapeNature, a public institution with statutory responsibility for biodiversity conservation in the Western Cape, and the Department of Environmental Affairs, Oceans and Coasts. Thirty-seven organizations from all spheres of penguin conservation were represented at the workshop.