African penguin

(Spheniscus demersus)

African penguins are the only species of penguins in South Africa. They are also known as 'jackass penguins' in English because of their donkey-like cries. The German word for these creatures, 'Brillenpinguine' (literally: 'spectacled penguin'), is the perfect word to distinguish them from the species of gentoo penguin established in the polar regions, as they have pink-coloured patches around their eyes.



South African Cape Peninsula

Squid, sardines, crabs, fish

Around 150,000 (rough estimate, since there are no precise numbers)

65 cm

3 kg

Brooding/gestation time:
38 days

Achievable age
27 years in human care, approx. 15 years in the wild

What you should know about the African penguin

African penguins are not able to use their wings for lift, but are better swimmers because of it – they move so fast through the water in doing so that it seems they are capable of 'flying' underwater. They owe their nimble capabilities as swimmers to their fin-like wings, which they move quickly using their strong pectoral muscles. They simply use their tale and feet for control.


Agile divers – bumbling runners

You just can't have it all as the African penguins would have you to believe. The more gallantly and nimbly they move through the water, the more clumsily they waddle on land upright. Yet penguins look a lot cuter compared to a human with flippers on their feet.


The 'dress coat': both a thermal suit and ...

The black and white feather coat of penguins is hugely practical! They lubricate their 'dress coat' using self-produced oil, which makes it all the more water-resistant. While the bottom layer of their feather coat, which consists of thick down feathers, is used as thermal underwear, the intermediate layer of air between the feathers insulates the penguins from the cold and provides underwater buoyancy.


... as well as camouflage protection

The colour of the feather coat also protects the African penguin underwater. The white belly and black back are ideal for camouflaging against hungry predators – depending on whether they become 'invisible' in the background of the bright water surface or the dark seabed.


Sociable and loyal family type

Penguins love company. They breed in colonies and go on the lookout for food together. There is an essential reason behind this, and namely that they are better protected against enemies while in groups. If a birth is on the horizon, the African penguins dig 30–90 cm deep burrows in the ground in which females are able to lay approx. two eggs and which protects them against the heat of the sun. Both partners, which incidentally often remain together for a lifetime, brood alternately in approx. six week sessions.


Is it true, that ...?

An insulated coat is all well and good, but is this not too warm for the South African penguins? Absolutely! The feather coat of the African penguin is also so practical in protecting it against the cold, that on land and under the sun it does actually threaten them with overheating. It's no wonder that they prefer the cool sea breeze on the coast and enjoy spending the warmer days in the water.

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Feeding times

3 p.m. in the penguin world behind the Alfred-Brehm House (predators)

All feeding times