Sampling Antarctica With a Bunch of Jackasses

Little Jackass Penguin, South Africa
Little Jackass Penguin, South Africa

Waking up to a spring that left me waiting.

With a magnificent view over Table mountain that also left me waiting in vain, as the clouds didn’t budge for 3 full days.

It almost felt like Antarctica when I got out to Boulders Beach and was instantly hit by the icy drizzle.

The umbrella wasn’t much of a friend either. I eventually abandoned it in the arms of my partner, soon after a lone penguin caught my eye.

South Africa. Finally here.

Since hitching a ride to Antarctica is an expensive endeavor that I’m working towards – and at a relatively slow crawl, I might add – I had settled for the nonetheless amazing encounter with the Jackass Penguins of South Africa.

In The Wild – Where They Belong

Sure I’d seen penguins before – at the zoo, like every other European. I still remember that first time: a painfully sad sight of five little penguins, furiously gulping for some fresh cold air that never came, under a makeshift tent that was too hot even for me.

I also saw them complacently swimming in their lilliputian pool in Prague and San Diego. In time, I forgot all about that little sad waddle in the tent.

And so I didn’t know what hit me at first, when I started crying. I cried a little when I saw the little jackass, standing 2 meters away, tilting its sleepy head at me.

It might have been the cold, or joy – but I know it wasn’t – I had remembered.

In the wild – where they belong.


Fancy Meeting a Jackass?

Visa hurdles aside ( here’s to the toughest-to-get visa of my life! ) I found myself exploring South Africa with a joy and eagerness I hadn’t felt in a while.

And penguins were definitely high on my list, as one might have gathered.

There are ten islands & two beaches home to the African penguin along the Western Cape coastline, with a further six islands in the Eastern Cape.

Boulders Beach

We ticked off the beaches. First, the infamous Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town, just outside Cape Town. And then Stony Point at Betty’s Bay, in a quest to find whales and otters.

Boulders Beach Penguins, south of Cape Town
Boulders Beach Penguins, south of Cape Town

Turns out what I was seeing here is but a shadow of the once large numbers in this colony.

In the past decade breeding numbers of African Penguins have dropped 90%. There were more than 30,000 penguins here back in 2004.

The reason: their main source of food – sardines & anchovies – is being unscrupulously preyed on by humans. Such a surprise, right?

A controlled experiment on two of the islands home to penguin colonies proved that overfishing is the main cause of the drastic hit in the numbers.

A temporary fishing ban showed that the survival of African penguin chicks increased by 18% after a trial three-year fishery closure around Robben Island. Yet, the subject still leaves scientists arguing with fishing companies over sustainable solutions, while the little jackasses may just face extinction.

Here are some more photos of the penguins to cheer us up, while someone figures this one out.

Stony Point Colony

We saw neither whales not otters that day,  but I sure got friendly with another penguin colony again. Plus: these views!

There’s a Romanian expression for it: ripped out of heaven. I can’t think of a more appropriate definition for what my eyes were seeing.

Penguin at Stony Point, in Betty's Bay, South Africa
Penguin at Stony Point, in Betty’s Bay, South Africa

What you’re seeing here are nature’s own photoshop skills.

jackass penguin on a rock, Stony Point South Africa

Although the Seychelles-looking boulders at Boulders Beach are a sight to behold, I recommend driving to Stony Point for a more intimate encounter with the penguins.

Bonus: Entry ticket is five times cheaper, and the crowds are much thinner.

Dreaming of a White Paradise

IMG_1696Penguins strike me as fascinating animals.

Sure, cute & cuddly as well – but fascinating. The social dynamics of penguin colonies are complex and provide glimpses into a much more interesting world than what we think we know.

The social dynamics of penguin colonies are so much more complex than we thought, and provide glimpses into a much more interesting world than what we think we know.

I know I’ll get to meet the Adelies and the kings and emperors of Antarctica.

One of these days, darlings, one of these days…

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  1. Oh wow! Those penguins are absolutely adorable! I would love to see them in person. I probably would fill up a whole SD card with penguin shots.

    • These were rather small colonies too. I can only imagine ( and look forward to) seeing the tens of thousands at the South Pole 😍
      But I agree, It’s rather difficult to stop pointing that camera at them 🙃

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