Even though the penguin may seem to be one of the most popular members of kingdom Animalia, a layman's knowledge about this flightless bird is only restricted to popular culture. Not many people out there know that penguins are not just restricted to Antarctica, but are also found in the relatively warm regions near the equator (e.g. Galapagos penguin and African Penguin). Irrespective of whether it's a penguin species endemic to Antarctica, or a species inhabiting the warm regions near the equator, penguins are facing the same problem that is being faced by animals of the north pole, such as the polar bear and Arctic fox - loss of habitat.
This loss of habitat, primarily due to climate change, has brought about a severe decline in penguin population in the wild, as a result of which several species of this flightless bird have been included in the endangered animals list compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) today. Other than destruction of habitat caused by climate change, overfishing of species like squids and octopuses which form their diet, commercial fishing, marine pollution, introduction of predators, etc., have also contributed to the decline in penguin population, and that's exactly why penguins are on endangered species list compiled by the IUCN today.
Are Penguins Endangered Species?
Not all the species of penguins are endangered as such. Some species, mainly the ones which inhabit the freezing regions of Antarctica wherein human habitation is virtually impossible, do exist in large numbers. But then, there also exist penguin species which have become quite rare in their native habitat itself nowadays. Precisely speaking, as many as five species of penguins have been enlisted as endangered by the IUCN today, while seven species of this flightless bird are enlisted as vulnerable.
Endangered Penguin Species
As of today, somewhere around 18-22 species of penguins are found on the planet. This confusion about the exact number can be attributed to the inability of the experts to come to a consensus on whether the Royal Penguin is a sub-species of Macaroni Penguin, and the mystery surrounding the classification of Southern Rockhopper Penguins into Eastern Rockhopper Penguin and Western Rockhopper Penguin. Of these 20 odd extant species of penguins on the planet, the ones which are considered to be endangered are ...
- Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) endemic to the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, which has had to bear the brunt of overfishing, habitat loss and large-scale predation by sharks, fur seals, sea lions, hawks, snakes, etc.
- Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) native to New Zealand, which has had to bear the brunt of habitat degradation and introduction of predators in its natural habitat.
- African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) aka Black-footed Penguin or the Jackass Penguin, found along the coastal regions of southern Africa, which is threatened by commercial fishing in this region, as well as climate change.
- Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes sclateri) found on the Bounty and Antipodes Islands of New Zealand, which is threatened by loss of habitat as a result of climate change and commercial fisheries.
- Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi), a species of Rockhopper Penguins, found on Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island in the Atlantic Ocean; which is threatened by climate change, marine pollution, overfishing, large-scale predation and competition with other species.
Penguin Species Vulnerable to Extinction
While the aforementioned five species have been declared endangered by the IUCN, the following seven species are enlisted as vulnerable by the premier organization. (So, what's the difference between the status of endangered species and that of vulnerable species. While those species which face a high risk of extinction in near future are enlisted as endangered species, those who face a medium-risk of extinction, but are still vulnerable to it, are enlisted as endangered species.)
- Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) aka Peruvian Penguin, native to coastal Peru and Chile, which is being threatened by overfishing, climate change and acidification of ocean.
- Fiordland Penguin (Eudyptes pachyrynchus) aka Fiordland Crested Penguin, native to New Zealand, which is being threatened by introduced predators such as cats and dogs.
- Snares Penguin (Eudyptes robustus) aka Snares Crested Penguin, native to Snares Islands of New Zealand, which is being threatened by climate change, introduction of predators, marine pollution, overfishing, etc.
- Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) found in cold waters surrounding Antarctica, which is being threatened by hunting for its oil. (A slight rise in population has been seen over the last few years, but the species is still considered vulnerable.)
- Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) found sub-Antarctic to the Antarctic Peninsula, which is being threatened by habitat loss as a result of climate change and commercial fishing.
- The Southern Rockhopper Penguins - Western Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) native to islands in western Pacific and Indian Ocean, and Eastern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes filholi) native to sub-Antarctic islands of the Indo-Pacific Ocean, which are threatened by loss of habitat as a result of climate change
Near Threatened and Least Concern Species
While those were the penguin species which are considered endangered and vulnerable, there do exist quite a few species which are nowhere near extinction. Armed with some amazing physical and behavioral adaptations, these species have successfully managed to survive nature's fury and human onslaught, and thus are still found in their native habitat in large numbers. These species are enlisted in the IUCN Red List as the 'Least Concern' species and 'Not Threatened' species.
- Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri), which boasts of being the largest species of penguin on the planet, endemic to Antarctica.
- King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) found on the sub-antarctic islands of the northern regions of Antarctica.
- Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) found all along the entire Antarctic coast.
- Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica), aka Bearded Penguin, found on the South Sandwich Islands, Antarctica.
- Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor), also known as the Fairy Penguin, found along the coast of the Australian continent.
- White-flippered Penguin (Eudyptula albosignata) found along the coastal areas of Canterbury, New Zealand.
While the aforementioned lists of penguins included species which have been declared endangered and vulnerable to extinction, as well as those which are considered least concern and not threatened, there also exist two species of this flightless bird which were driven to extinction somewhere in the 19th century. These two extinct species of penguins are the Waitaha Penguin (Megadyptes waitaha) and Chatham Islands Penguin (Eudyptes chathamensis) - both of which were native to New Zealand. Even though we have lost these two penguins, we don't seem to have learned any lessons from their extinction. If we had, we wouldn't have had five species of penguins enlisted in the IUCN Red List as endangered species and seven species as vulnerable species.