Sharing Space with Penguins

African penguins at Boulder Beach.
A man trying to communicate with penguins at Boulder Beach.
Boulder Beach is located in Simon’s Town at False Bay.
Visitors on a boardwalk at Boulder Beach looking at a colony of African penguins.
An African penguin swimming.

The famous Boulders Beach south of Cape Town is inhabited by African penguins and also regularly frequented by humans. On this beach, curious penguins may walk up to within a few meters of visitors, given that people sit still or behave calmly. This interaction, combined with the razor sharpness of penguins’ beaks, means that respect for the penguins and their surroundings is a prerequisite for peaceful coexistence.

While watching penguins is the main attraction of Boulders Beach, people also go there to swim and to work on their tan. Both tourists and locals, in fact, find the beach soothingly peaceful, and the Boulders shores certainly contrast the bustling streets of Cape Town, which is only a short bus ride away.

Shielded from predators

Having a sprawling metropolis nearby would typically not add to penguins’ quality of life, but Cape Town, in some regard, is an exception. Located at the throat of the Cape Peninsula, the city’s concrete jungle physically shields Boulders Beach and other peninsula beaches from the rest of mainland South Africa, keeping large predators away. The penguins at Boulders Beach, as a result, rarely get preyed on by other land-dwelling animals, and therefore are relatively safe from attack as long as they stay out of the ocean.

Foraging at sea

Apart from the shielded colony of penguins on Boulders Beach, which is on the mainland, most African penguins live equally shielded on small islands off the coast of southern Africa and neighboring Namibia. On these islands, just like at Boulders Beach, the flightless and slow-walking birds forage at sea, with diets consisting of different types of fish and squid. Worryingly though, modern-day industrial fishing and oil spills have taken a heavy toll on the African penguin and contributed to the animal now being labelled a threatened species by conservation groups.