African penguin gets a new lease of life

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The African penguin, a bird native to Namibia and South Africa, is now listed as an endangered species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. The listing means the U.S. government has determined the African penguin is in danger of extinction throughout all of its range.

The listing was adopted September 28 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) after a review of scientific information and 604 comments on the proposal submitted by the general public and peer reviewers. The rule, effective October 28, extends special legal protections and opens the door to U.S. support for conservation assistance to nations and organizations working to preserve the African penguin and its habitats.

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is “in a serious, accelerating decline,” according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The population has declined 60.5 percent in the past 28 years due to reductions in its food supplies and increased competition for food with both the fishing industry and Cape fur seals. In addition, rapid ecosystem changes at the northern end of the penguin’s range and moves by prey resources to beyond the foraging range of breeding penguins at the southern end have increased pressures on the African penguin flocks. Oil spills also have contributed to the bird’s decline.

Climate change creates more threats through rising sea levels, increasing sea surface temperatures, declines in upwelling intensities and predicted increases in frequency and intensity of El Niño events in the Benguela marine ecosystem, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Granting foreign species protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act means that the import or export of any members of the species or their parts or products is prohibited, as is their sale in interstate or foreign commerce. The law also prohibits harassing, harming, pursuing, hunting, shooting, wounding, killing, trapping, capturing or collecting listed species within the United States. The law also aims to conserve the ecosystems on which endangered species and threatened species depend.

The Endangered Species Act mandates that the United States will “encourage foreign countries to provide for the conservation of fish, wildlife and plants, including listed species; enter into bilateral or multilateral agreements for the purpose; encourage and assist foreign persons who take fish, wildlife and plants for import to the U.S. for commercial or other purposes to develop and carry out conservation procedures.” It authorizes U.S. aid to train personnel from other nations on wildlife conservation for research and law enforcement purposes, and for law enforcement investigations and research abroad.

The African penguin also is protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), a 1973 international agreement. The United States was among the 21 original signatories.

Unlike the Endangered Species Act, which protects species by addressing a variety of threats to their survival, CITES protects at-risk species primarily through restrictions on commerce. The CITES system for controlling international trade in species in danger of becoming extinct relies on adoption and enforcement of export and import restrictions by signatory nations.

CITES allows for trade in listed species if such trade is not detrimental to a species’ survival. In contrast, the Endangered Species Act permits trade in foreign endangered species only if that trade enhances the survival of the species in its native country. Overall, restrictions in the Endangered Species Act are broader and somewhat stricter than CITES requirements.

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