The Boulders Beach African Penguin Colony was established in 1982 by a breeding pair of penguins who settled near Capetown, South Africa after fleeing when a larger colony was devastated. Today there are currently 28 African penguin colonies, only four of these occurring on the African mainland. These colonies run along the coast, from Algoa Bay in South Africa to Namibia’s Penguin Islands. Despite the huge distances between these colonies, it is not uncommon for young penguins to visit, and occasionally resettle, at a different colony from which they hatched. African penguins are clearly resilient animals. They have evolved the behavioral mechanisms to move their entire population to deal with changes in the abundance of food. Despite their wide range and versatile juveniles, African penguin numbers are declining fast – so fast that it is believed they will be extinct within 10 years. Today there are fewer than 21 000 pairs of African penguins left in the wild – 100 years ago there were single colonies that had over a million, like Yzerfontein’s Dassen Island. Dassen Island is, unfortunately, not a unique case. The total breeding population across both South Africa and Namibia fell to a historic low of about 20,850 pairs in 2019. Quite simply, our common seafoods – sardines, anchovies and pilchards – are the products directly linked to the decline in penguin numbers. You may have been unaware, but sardines/pilchards have recently been added to the WWF SASSI Orange List – a seafood you should avoid. These ratings do not only mean that the fish itself is at risk, but also that the practices used to catch it are harmful to other species. I would go a step further in saying seafood of any kind should only be consumed if it is sustainably farmed. Bottom trawling destroys far more ocean habitat than any other fishing practice. In this common fishing method, large weighted nets are dragged across the ocean floor, clear-cutting a swath of habitat in their wake. Some of these scars will take centuries to heal, if ever.
Parrots are among the most intelligent and colorful birds, found in most tropical and subtropical regions and popular as pets. The parrot family includes the most beautiful birds in the bird kingdom, and are broadly divided into families including macaws, eclectus, cockatoos, New Zealand kakapo, Madagascar lovebirds, parakeets, budgerigar and conures. Parrots are found on all tropical and subtropical continents and regions. Macaws are native to Central America and Mexico, South America, and formerly the Caribbean. Most species are associated with forests, especially rainforests, but others prefer woodland or savannah-like habitats. Costa Rica has 17 species of parrots and parakeets of the 365 species in the world. They vary in size, from tiny little parakeets to very large macaws. Parrots and parakeets are widely distributed throughout Costa Rica. The Scarlet Macaw is found from the Central Pacific south to the Osa Peninsula. There are several rescue organizations that are breeding in Guanacaste as well, with some success. Visitors interested in the Great-green Macaw, will need to visit the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. The very small existing population lives on the Caribbean slope. I visited a rescue sanctuary run by a farmer near the SarapiquiS Rainforest Lodge on the Caribbean slopes of Costa Rica where I took most of these photos.
Last year I had the privilege of visiting Madagascar to see the unique animals and plants often found only there. The prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana separated the Madagascar–Antarctica–India landmass from the Africa–South America landmass around 135 million years ago (mya). Madagascar later split from India about 88 mya, allowing plants and animals on the island to evolve in relative isolation. Fossils from Africa and some tests of nuclear DNA suggest that lemurs made their way to Madagascar between 40 and 52 mya. Other mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence comparisons offer an alternative date range of 62 to 65 mya. An ancestral lemur population is thought to have inadvertently rafted to the island on a floating mat of vegetation, although hypotheses for land bridges and island hopping have also been proposed. Any extended ocean voyage without fresh water or food would prove difficult for a large, warm-blooded mammal, but today many small, nocturnal species of lemur hibernate, which allows them to lower their metabolism and become dormant while living off fat reserves facilitating the ocean voyage. Having undergone their own independent evolution on Madagascar, lemurs have diversified to fill many niches normally filled by other types of mammals. They include the smallest primates in the world, and once included some of the largest. Lemurs belong to a group called prosimian primates, defined as all primates that are neither monkeys nor apes. Though there are many species of lemur, there are very few individuals. Lemurs are considered the most endangered group of animals on the planet.