A yellow-eyed penguin in its nest.
Although much of Pew’s global penguin conservation work has focused on protecting the world-famous penguins of Antarctica, the majority of penguin species don’t live on the frozen continent. In fact, only 6 of 18 species live there, which means that many other populations of the Southern Hemisphere’s penguins are in need of conservation efforts, too. These include the endangered yellow-eyed penguin of New Zealand, which has plummeted in population size because of habitat degradation and invasive species, and now consists of only about 1,700 breeding pairs. Yellow-eyed penguins live on New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island and the adjacent Auckland and Campbell islands. Unlike other penguin species, they do not nest close to one another. Instead, they build nests in dense forests and leave a good amount of space between themselves and their closest neighbor. Unfortunately, much of their forest habitat was cleared for pastures for sheep and cattle during the 20th century, and predators such as ferrets were introduced, which wiped out penguin populations and has endangered their survival as a species.
But groups such as the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust have long understood the birds’ plight and have been working since 1987 to promote smart conservation methods in the coastal forest areas these penguins call home. And in 2016, Pew will undertake research and projects aimed at boosting work to protect yellow-eyed penguins to help them bounce back.
The lush landscape of New Zealand’s Otago Peninsula, which yellow-eyed penguins call home.
This work has many objectives, including:
- Learning more about how the birds forage and feed and how fisheries near their island homes affect their ability to find food.
- Developing a marine reserve off the coast of New Zealand’s Otago region, where many of these penguins live and breed, to help protect their food supply and ocean habitat.
- Raising public awareness across New Zealand of this special bird and its importance to the country’s Indigenous culture and history.
In January 2014, members of Pew’s global penguin conservation team visited with the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust in New Zealand to discuss possible protections for the endangered bird. From left: Liz Karan, Ryan Dolan, and Bronwyn Golder of Pew join David McFarlane, field manager for the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust.
While Penguin Awareness Day most often focuses on our feathered friends in Antarctic waters, Pew thinks it’s time for other penguins of the world to get their moment in the spotlight.
Stay tuned for more information in 2016 as we become more active in New Zealand and hopefully make strides for the unique, forest-dwelling yellow-eyed penguin. In the meantime, test your knowledge with our new quiz: How much do you know about this special penguin?