More than 60 endangered African penguins were recently found dead, all with multiple bee stings and no other external injuries, according to officials from a South African coastal city where the birds regularly migrate.
Sixty-three dead African penguins were found Friday in the pebble penguin colony, in Simon’s Town, about 25 miles south of Cape Town, in the south-west of the country.
All the penguins had multiple bee stings, and “many dead bees were found at the site where the birds had died,” according to a statement from the South African National Parks. “Therefore, preliminary research suggests that the penguins died due to the sting of a swarm of Cape honey bees.”
No external physical injuries were seen in any of the dead penguins, according to the statement.
Penguins migrate to the area annually. Bees found near dead birds are native to the area, “generally coexisting with wildlife” and “do not sting unless provoked,” according to Dr. Alison Kock, a marine biologist for the National Parks. from South Africa.
“We have never had a problem like this before,” he said.
The penguins had been stung around the eyes and on their flippers, areas not covered by feathers, Dr. Kock said.
“The feathers on the penguin’s body are densely packed and bee stings are unlikely to have penetrated through these feathers,” Dr. Kock said in an email. “On the other hand, the skin around the eyes and fins is featherless and bites could penetrate those regions.”
Tests are underway to determine whether a toxin or disease was a factor in the penguins’ deaths, park officials said. So far, officials believe the honeycomb was disturbed, causing “a mass of bees to flee the nest, swarm and become defensive and aggressive,” Dr. Kock said. “Unfortunately, the bees encountered a group of penguins on their flight path.”
African penguins are an endangered species with a population of only around 41,700 adults, as of 2020, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Red list of threatened species.
The birds live primarily in the coastal areas of Namibia and South Africa, according to the African Wildlife Foundation, and can reach up to 28 inches in height and 11 pounds in weight. Them go down to earth to breed, shed old feathers and rest.
Two oil spills, in 1994 and 2000, killed about 30,000 penguins, according to the foundation.
The bird population has been decreasing because overfishing has reduced their food source, according to Oceana, a conservation group.
But the penguins are winning against recognition.
The summer migration of African penguins to Simon’s Town was recently featured in a Netflix documentary, “Penguin Town,” narrated by actor Patton Oswalt.
“Some penguins can be emperors,” says Oswalt. “In this place, they are gods.”