Dassen and Robben Islands, South Africa, 2000

Penguins are charming creatures. They stand and walk upright, just like us. Their wings, or flippers, hang down by their sides, like arms. They waddle when they walk, like toddlers. They seem gregarious and make funny noises. Their very nature is droll: they are birds that cannot fly. Originally called “feathered fish,” they are bumbling, stumbling walkers on land and graceful torpedoes under water. Behaviorally, penguins are probably similar to humans in ways no other animal is. Public affection for penguins, however, is a relatively recent development, arising only in the last century with the introduction of penguins into zoos in the northern hemispheres. But once the general public got a look at these creatures, penguins earned a worldwide following in the fight for their protection…

By the mid-twentieth century, most penguin harvesting around the world had ceased and had become illegal in many countries.  But while the twentieth century brought legal protection for penguins, it also introduced a new menace—oil spills.  Now it was not humans killing penguins for their oil, rather it was oil that was killing penguins.  Oil spills near shipping lanes around the tip of southern Africa were to prove particularly vulnerable.

Just such an event occurred when the M.V Treasure, a tanker hauling ore sunk off the coast of South Africa, spilled oil used for fuel.  The oil spill spread over the breeding grounds of African penguins threatening the existence of the colony.  Only a dramatic rescue, with support from local environmentalists and citizens, in cooperation with international organizations, saved the African penguins.

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