The deaths of 63 penguins at the Boulders African penguin colony in Simon’s Town are “very worrying”, according to a vet from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).
The birds were found dead on Friday September 17.
An investigation into the deaths was launched after an initial post-mortem found the birds had multiple bee stings, and many dead Cape Honey bees were found at the site, says Sancobb spokesman Ronnis Daniels.
“The penguin and sea bird rangers at the colony will continue to monitor the nests of breeding birds because there might be chicks and eggs that have lost a parent bird, and one parent will not be able to provide sufficient food. We’ll know in the week ahead if there are chicks or eggs coming through to our centre,” he said.
Sanccob clinical veterinarian Dr David Roberts said the bee stings were so small that they could have been easily missed. Almost all the penguins had stings embedded around their eyes, and some had more than 20 stings on their bodies, he said.
He visited the site with Dr Alison Kock from SANParks and Arne Purves from the City of Cape Town.
“We searched the sand in that area, and we found lots of dead bees so we can confirm that the penguins died from bee stings,” he said.
The deaths of so many healthy breeding adults were very worrying, as the African penguin was in danger of extinction and the population was declining rapidly, he said. However, the unusual event was part of what could happen in a normal balanced ecosystem.
“If penguins were not in such trouble already, it wouldn’t be such a tragedy. Sadly, the African penguin population is so depleted and doing so badly that any loss of any individuals is very worrying for the species,” he said.
Cape honey bees naturally live all around Cape Town and are an essential part of the natural ecosystem.
“We could not have responded to this tragedy so quickly without the assistance of the dedicated conservationists and researchers at Sanccob, SANParks and the City of Cape Town, especially the penguin rangers, who do so much to conserve the African penguin and the ecosystem in which it lives,” Dr Roberts said.