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Researchers across North America are in a race against time to save the South African penguin from extinction.
Biologists are focusing on keeping a genetically diverse population in captivity. They hope that one day, commercial fishing and climate change can be controlled enough for the birds to survive in the wild.
They may be living the good life here in captivity but, in the wild, the South African penguin is in trouble. It is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa and it's numbers are plummeting.
In 2010, the penguin was added to the US Endangered Species list. In a little over a century, their numbers have dropped from more than a million to fewer than 80,000 - and if current trends continue - experts say none will be left in the wild in a few short decades.
Biologists at the California Academy of Sciences, along with zoos across North America are working to ensure that the penguins have a fighting chance. Brooke Weinstein is a biologist at the Academy.
Brooke Weinstein, Biologists at the California Academy of Sciences, said, "We are part of what is called the species survival plan. We work together with numerous other zoos and aquarium in North America just to make sure that we are maintaining a genetically viable population of these birds in captivity. "
The South African penguin is also known as the Jackass penguin because it sounds remarkably similar to a donkey when it communicates. But no amount donkey braying will help them in their fight for survival. According to biologists, climate change combined with commercial fishing are pushing the penguins to the brink of extinction.
Weinstein says the problems the birds face in the wild are "over-arching". She says the only way to keep the species from dying out is by breeding them in captivity.
Brooke Weinstein, said, "If they were to become extinct in the wild we would work to make sure that we have healthy population in captivity that we can look into re-introducing if conditions were to improve. So I don't think it too late but I do think its really imperative that people make the kind of changes that we need to make, because no one wants a world without penguins."
Each year a group of scientists review all of the birds in captivity and play match-maker - all in an effort to keep the population as genetically diverse as possible.But keeping the population genetically diverse is only half the battle. According to Brooke Weinstein, climate change and over-fishing must be urgently addressed if the jackass penguin is to have a chance at survival.