Here at the QMUL Sustainability blog we are always looking to showcase the work of our dedicated students. In this new series of blog posts, English department finalist Becky Cox writes about her passion: wildlife conservation. She kicks off with a festive theme as we have a trip to the Antarctic to learn about the penguin.
At the risk of sounding like a game show host… Hello! And welcome to my new monthly blog about raising awareness for endangered animals both here in the UK and as a global concern. As Christmas is rapidly approaching I thought a somewhat festive theme for this post would be fitting. This post will be in two parts spread across the wintery season. Part One concerns the declining population of much-loved monochromatic family of birds we know simply as the Penguin. Part Two, posted in January, is about the magnificent Polar Bear and it’s plight in the Artic. For those who don’t know, these two animals live at opposite ends, (polar opposites, if you will) of the earth. A polar bear and penguin have probably never met, regardless of the dubiously photoshopped images you may be able to find online so this really is not a ‘only one can survive whilst the other lives’ scenario, this is a ‘human action is destroying their habitats and resources through the direct consequences of climate change’ scenario.
Now let’s discuss the penguin…
Type penguin into Google and the first thirty or so images that appear are photos of the famous Emperor or King penguin with a couple of others deposited throughout. However there are actually about twenty different species all unique and fascinating in every way. Penguins have more feathers than any other creature, on average seventy feathers per square inch, the Gentoo penguin can swim faster than any other bird at 22mph and the Emperor penguin has the longest continuous incubation interval of all birds at approximately sixty-five days. All species of penguin with one exception, the Galapagos penguin, live in the Southern hemisphere and only three live in the harsh conditions of Antarctica. Of the twenty species of penguin a colossal seventeen are considered to be Endangered, Vulnerable or Near Threatened.
The Emperor Penguin, and my personal favourite, the Adélie penguin both live in Antarctica and are both of a ‘Near Threatened’ status. Some studies have shown that over half the of the population of these penguins have depleted over the last fifty years and WWF suggest that more than a decline of 50% again will be expected in the next fifty years at the current rate of global warming. Naturally the ice provides a home for these penguins for the six months they breed and rear their young. Penguins have been known to adapt to climate change before but this time the change is too fast for them to adapt. The other problem they face is a danger that commercial krill fishing will take off in the Southern oceans, not just affecting penguins but the nutritional basis for a lot of marine life such as whales, almost all of which are endangered.
The White-flippered, Galapagos, African, Yellow Eyed and Erect Crested penguins are all endangered. This simply means it is highly likely they will become extinct in the near future. The White-flippered penguin lives in New Zealand with as few as three thousand breeding pairs. Similar to the Erect Crested penguin, this tiny penguin is often attacked by newly introduced predators such as cats and dogs that take chicks from their nests. They are also caught in fishing nets. The Galapagos and African penguins are mainly threatened by nest disruption via tourists and lack of food due to over-fishing. The Yellow Eyed penguin also lives in New Zealand but due to their shy nature are being frightened off land as their nests are disturbed by farming. It is illegal to poach penguin eggs or hunt penguins, but naturally illegal trading still occurs. Ultimately it may be orcas, sharks and leopard seals that put these creatures in immediate danger but it is our actions that threaten their existence in the long term.
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Good news – because these animals are directly impacted by climate change there is so much you can do to help!
- Reduce waste by recycling.
- Take public transport, share lifts cycle or walk.
- Plant a tree!
- Reduce use of electricity by turning objects off rather than leaving them on standby. Also turn off lights.
- Turn down your heating – put on an extra jumper!
- Grow your own food or buy locally.
Obviously these are small ideas (that together make a big impact) and we should be doing them regardless of how wonderful penguins are. Equally if you are motivated by the imminent threat to animals and nature then go ahead and get involved because that reason is as commendable as any other!
If you are particularly fascinated by these lovable birds (I wouldn’t blame you) you can adopt one here:
(You can even send the adoption as a gift for Christmas!)
Or donate to these wonderful charities that directly help penguins in danger!
Naturally there is so much more I wanted to write on this subject so below I have posted some interesting and useful links for anyone interested.
Don’t forget January 20th is World Penguin Awareness Day so spread the word!
Thank you for reading and Merry Christmas!
– Becky Cox