You are strolling along a beach near Cape Town, the sun beating down on your face. Dazzled by the light, you chuckle to yourself when you think you see a penguin in the distance. Maybe it’s a small black and white dog. No? Perhaps, it’s a toddler. Wait, it is a penguin!
About 2,000 African penguins live on Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, giving tourists the chance to walk among them. The first pair was spotted at Boulders in 1983. The ban on commercial fishing in the area meant there was an abundance of fish, making nesting spots safe and plentiful.
And so the colony grew very large, very quickly. In recent years though, the African penguin has joined the endangered species list – their numbers have decreased by 95% since pre-industrial times. Due to increased traffic of people and cars, penguins have started to nest unsafe sites, making them vulnerable to predators. Because of this and other factors like the lack of food (commercial fishing is no longer banned), the colony at Boulders is getting rapidly smaller. If the decline in African penguin numbers carries on at this rate, they’ll be extinct within 15 years.
So if people are part of the problem, should we be going to see the penguins on the beach at all? Yes. There are lots of conservation initiatives in place to help protect the penguins, including the introduction of artificial nesting boxes to encourage the little waddlers to choose a safer home.
Boardwalks have been built to keep humans a safe distance from the main penguin breeding sites. While still affording us a great view of the birds going about their daily business, we are not disturbing their waddle routines. With a small donation to use these boardwalks, along with an entrance fee to enter the beach area, conservation efforts can continue apace. The beach is also patrolled by a team of park rangers who ensure the safety of penguins.
Boulders is a beautiful beach, with bays to explore and plenty of penguins to be seen. Make your way to close-by Foxy Beach (a short stroll along one of the boardwalks) for the best penguin views.
Penguin colonies can be found on a number of beaches around Cape Town. But head to Boulders Beach and Foxy Beach for the best viewing areas.
Baby penguins can be spotted moulting in the beach in January. February to August is breeding season. But in September and October, the penguins spend a lot of time feeding at sea. So beach-based numbers are lower then..
What you need to know:
Stay in nearby Cape Town. Simon’s Town is easy to get to by train for a day trip. The journey takes about 45 minutes each way.