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World Penguin Day: Penguin Conservation Status

Gentoo Penguin at the shore with text above the penguin saying "It's World Penguin Day! Pass it on".

World Penguin Day: Penguin Conservation Status

By Abigail Pietrow, Penguin Keeper

April 25th is World Penguin Day! As we celebrate these wonderful and fascinating flightless birds on this day, let’s check in with how the 18 different species are doing.

Conservation status for each species is noted in terms of its International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation.

Image of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation.
International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List designation. Photo credit:
Photograph of an Adelie Penguin looking at the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

Adelie Penguin

The Adelie Penguin is listed as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. Their populations were feared to be decreasing until a previously unknown “supercolony” consisting of an estimated 1.5 million individuals was discovered on remote Antarctic islands in 2018. Surprisingly, these birds were located in part due to the discovery of huge guano stains on NASA satellite imagery.

African Penguin

The IUCN Red List considers the African Penguin to be in the “Endangered” category. Populations have declined by almost 65% since 1989 due to a number of different threats like oil spills and overfishing of food sources by humans. Small victories have been noted in recent years, such as the designation of Robben Island, historically an important breeding island for the species, as a protected marine site in 2019. Organizations like the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) work tirelessly to help the survival of this species.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguins are currently listed as “Least Concern.” New research published in 2020 reported the results of one of the first censuses of Chinstrap colonies since the 1970s. They reported decreases of up to 50% at some of the colony sites studied. As with other penguin species, increased monitoring of populations could be very useful in helping scientists paint a more accurate picture of how these species are coping with various challenges in their environment.

Photograph of Chinstrap Penguin looking at the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach
Photograph of Emperor Penguins walking on sea ice.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Emperor Penguin

Perhaps the most well known of all penguin species, the Emperor Penguin is designated as “Near Threatened.” Currently, the population trend of this species is fairly stable, but their reproductive strategy and natural history is linked to the seasonal sea ice of Antarctica. Predictive modeling suggests that over the course of the next century, climate change will effect the formation of Antarctic sea ice enough to significantly imperil this species.

Erect-Crested Penguin

This little-known species breeds on only two groups of islands off of the coast of New Zealand, is possibly one of the least-studied penguins species in the world, and is listed as “Endangered.” Studies conducted indicate rapid decline over the last 50 years but surveys have been limited to only portions of the island groups and may not be wholly reliable estimates.

Fiordland Penguin

Also known as “Tawaki” (in Māori) in their native range of New Zealand, the Fiordland penguin is considered “Near Threatened.” When these penguins are not nesting in tangled rainforest, they complete massive migrations of up to 7,000km to search for food prior to the molting season.

Galapagos Penguin

The smallest of the Banded Penguins and the northernmost of all penguin species, the Galapagos Penguin is designated as “Endangered.” El Niño events have severely affected populations of this penguin over the last 50 years.  Predictive modeling of El Niño patterns has described a 30% chance of extinction for this species within the next century.

Gentoo Penguin

The Gentoo Penguin is noted as “Least Concern.” These plucky birds may actually be the penguin “winners” of climate change – as their Sub-Antarctic populations have stabilized in recent years, their Antarctic populations are seeing massive increases. Recent genetic and physical evidence has been uncovered suggesting that the Gentoo Penguin, while currently split into two subspecies, would be more accurately described as four separate species! It’s up to the scientific community now to analyze the merits of this assessment.

Photograph of two Gentoo Penguins, both penguins are facing to the side of the camera.
Photo Credit: Jessica Caton Diefenbach

Humboldt Penguin

Classified as “Vulnerable,” surveys of Humboldt Penguin populations over the last several decades have revealed considerable uncertainty in past population estimates. However, we do know that this species is heavily affected by El Niño events, which massively decrease available food and cause widespread mortality and breeding failure.

Photograph of two King Penguins on the grass. One penguin is facing the camera and the other is to the side.
Source: Penguins International Photo Library

King Penguin

The King Penguin is the second-largest species behind its cousin, the Emperor Penguin. King Penguins are listed as “Least Concern,” but fairly recent studies have showed wildly different population trends in different parts of their range. According to a 2018 study on South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic, King Penguins have seen a remarkable recovery over the last century after severe historical exploitation for their oil. In the same year, another study was published detailing an 88% decline in the population of this species at a colony in the Crozet Islands.

Little Penguin

The smallest species of penguin is designated as “Least Concern” as populations are stable in most locations. However, these tiny birds remain highly vulnerable to human threats such as coastal development, death by domestic pets, invasive and introduced species, and human disturbance at nesting colonies. Sites without active protection have declined severely over time.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguins are classified as “Vulnerable.” Though some local populations are stable, overall global populations are steadily decreasing. Macaroni Penguins are an incredible example of these flightless seabirds inhabiting some pretty extreme environments as one breeding island is actually the summit of an underwater volcano and has erupted multiple times since the 1990s!

Photograph of two Magellanic Penguins in their burrow.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Magellanic Penguin

The Magellanic Penguin is listed as “Least Concern,” populations trends are varied across their range. Penguin populations continue to keep scientists on their toes; in 2020 a previously unknown colony of Magellanic Penguins was discovered, hidden among a nesting colony of Rockhopper Penguins that was being surveyed.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin

The Northern Rockhopper, found on Sub-Antarctic Islands off the southern coastline of Africa is considered “Endangered.” The splitting of the Rockhoppers into two distinct species is a fairly recent occurrence, with evidence presented by Jouventin et al. in 2006. The Northern Rockhopper remains the less studied of the two species, though human exploitation likely played a part in historical declines and current declines continue in present day populations.

Royal Penguin

The Royal Penguin is “Near Threatened,” and is only found in one population around Macquarie Island south of New Zealand. The population seems to have recovered from historical exploitation though the last substantial survey of the species occurred in 1985.

Snares Penguin

The Snares Penguin is listed as “Vulnerable” due to its inhabitation of only a single group of islands south of New Zealand, the Snares Islands. While the population of the Snares Penguin is currently stable, with the entire population condensed in such a small area the species vulnerable to be widely effected by a single catastrophic event.

Photo of two Snares Penguins rubbing their bills together.
Photo from Macaulay Library

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Southern Rockhopper Penguins encompass two subspecies, and together are considered “Vulnerable.” While there is evidence that populations are reproducing at high enough rates to stabilize themselves, several mass mortality events in recent decades, most lately in 2016, have continued to damage populations and delay recovery of the species. These mortality events, while still not fully understood, are thought to be linked to food shortages that accompany fluctuations in sea surface temperature.

Photograph of Yellow-eyed Penguin in tall grass.
Source: Penguins International
Photo Library

Yellow-eyed Penguin

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin is the only extant species in its genus, and it designated as “Endangered.” Known in the Māori language as the “Hoiho,” the Yellow-eyed Penguin is native to the coasts and coastal island of southern New Zealand. Today is it one of the rarest penguins in the world with an estimated population of less than 3,000 mature individuals. Total declines in this species over the past 30 years estimated are to be between 50-75%. Organizations dedicated to their recovery, like the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, work closely to conserve and study this unique species, and restore suitable habitat for them throughout their range.

If you are curious to learn more about each of these penguin species, visit our penguin species page or click on the name of the penguin species listed above.

Check out our blog to learn about what actions you can take to preserve these iconic species! Consider donating to Penguins International to support our education and conservation efforts.

Read more about penguins in some of our other blogs:

© Abigail Pietrow 2021

Abigail Pietrow is a penguin keeper at the Aquarium of Niagara, and works extensively with Humboldt Penguins. Any views or opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily represent those of the Aquarium of Niagara.


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BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus humboldtiThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697817A182714418. on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus magellanicusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697822A157428850. on 07 January 2021.

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus mendiculusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697825A182729677. on 07 January 2021.

Clucas, Gemma & Dunn, M. & Dyke, Gareth & Emslie, Steven & Levy, Hila & Naveen, Ron & Polito, Michael & Pybus, Oliver & Rogers, Alex & Hart, Tom. (2014). A reversal of fortunes: Climate change ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in Antarctic Peninsula penguins. Scientific reports. 4. 5024. 10.1038/srep05024.

De Lazaro, E. (2020, January 21). Researchers Discover New Colony of Magellanic Penguins. Retrieved January 07, 2021, from

Foley, Catherine & Hart, T. & Lynch, H.. (2018). King Penguin populations increase on South Georgia but explanations remain elusive. Polar Biology. 41. 10.1007/s00300-018-2271-z.

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Joshua Tyler, Matthew T. Bonfitto, Gemma V. Clucas, Sushma Reddy, Jane L. Younger. Morphometric and genetic evidence for four species of gentoo penguin. Ecology and Evolution, 2020 DOI: 10.1002/ece3.6973

Jouventin, P., Cuthbert, R. J., and Ottvall, R. (2006). Genetic isolation and divergence in sexual traits: evidence for the northern rockhopper penguin Eudyptes moseleyi being a sibling species. Molecular Ecology 15, 3413–3423. doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2006.03028.x

Mattern T, Pütz K, Garcia-Borboroglu P, Ellenberg U, Houston DM, et al. (2018) Marathon penguins – Reasons and consequences of long-range dispersal in Fiordland penguins / Tawaki during the pre-moult period. PLOS ONE 13(8): e0198688.

Morgenthaler, A., E. Frere, A. Raya Rey, C. Torlaschi, P. Cedrola, E. Tiberi, R. Lopez, E. Mendieta, M. L. Carranza, S. Acardi, N. Collm, P. Gandini, A. Millones. (2018) Unusual number of Southern Rockhopper Penguins, Eudyptes chrysocome, molting and dying along the Southern Patagonian coast of Argentina: pre-molting dispersion event related to adverse oceanographic conditions? Polar Biology 41(5): 1041-1047.

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Yellow-eyed Penguins – one of the rarest penguins in the world

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The Yellow-eyed Penguin – one of the rarest penguins in the world

by Georgia Podmore

The Yellow-eyed Penguin is one of the rarest penguin species in the world. It is found north of the Antarctic Ocean, along the coast of Southern New Zealand (Ellenberg, Mattern and Seddon, 2009). As the name suggests, the penguin is easily identifiable by the yellow colour around its eyes, along with a brightly coloured yellowish line that runs from its eyes round the back of the head.

Yellow-eyed Penguin characteristics

Like other penguins, the Yellow-eyed Penguin is carnivorous and preys on marine animals, such as crustaceans, cephalopods and fish. They are one of the larger species and can grow to approximately 75cm in height (Ellenberg et al., 2007). The penguins will breed once a year with their mate, who remain faithful to each other. The female will lay two eggs and both parents will help with incubating the eggs until they hatch. Once hatched, the chicks will stay with their parents until approximately twelve months old. The nesting sites for Yellow-eyed Penguins can be found in the forestry and shrubs that run alongside the southeast coast of New Zealand (, 2019). Historically, the nesting sites have been undisturbed, however in recent years the penguins have had to face land predators. This has resulted in the species becoming an endangered animal with a wild population of less than 4,000 individuals (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2017).

Threats to Yellow-eyed Penguin populations


Yellow-eyed Penguins must deal with predators near their breeding grounds that are now beginning to hunt on their eggs. These predators include feral cats, stoats, ferrets and dogs (Ellenberg et al., 2007). On land, these predators are generally not a cause for concern for adult penguins. However, due to predation on their eggs, Yellow-eyed Penguin breeding success has been declining in recent years. Predators in the ocean include sharks and fur seals. The penguins have no defense against such large predators in the water, relying strictly on swimming speed and manoeuvrability, or escaping out of the water to dry land. Like all penguins, their colouration also helps disguise them from predators, as sharks and seals may find it difficult to see the penguins from below due to their white chest, or from above due to their black backs.

Human Interference

Humans have already disrupted Yellow-eyed Penguin populations by introducing some of the penguin predators into their areas. Another way in which humans have affected the number of penguins is through disturbance from the tourism trade (Ellenberg, Mattern and Seddon, 2009). Being a spectacular penguin to look at — along with its endangered status — brings in large numbers of people who want to see these animals in the wild before they’re gone. Research has shown that large numbers of tourists can be associated with reduced breeding success, along with decreased fledgling weight, which can then affect their survival rate in the first year (Mattern et al., 2007). These factors may be influenced due to stress on the adult penguins which may affect normal behaviour. 


As the climate is warming, disease is becoming a bigger issue for Yellow-eyed Penguins. Avian malaria was responsible for 29 deaths in 2018/19 (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust, 2017), a large and impactful number for such a small population. With increased temperatures leading to increases in mosquito breeding, the threat for disease to penguins is expected to increase. Avian diphtheria is also affecting the species, which is commonly found in young chicks. Bacterial plaque forms in the mouth of the chick and is subsequently inhaled, which eventually causes aspiration pneumonia, a potentially fatal illness.

Stress can also cause penguins to become more susceptible to disease, which for the Yellow-eyed Penguin may be coming from increased threats and tourism. 


Habitat loss has become one of the main reasons the number of Yellow-eyed Penguins are decreasing (Mattern et al., 2007). In New Zealand, forests are being cleared to make way for field areas for grazing animals or homes. This is then resulting in increased pressure for the penguins as they attempt to find nesting areas. 

How can we help these extremely endangered Yellow-eyed Penguins?

Help for the Yellow-eyed Penguin started in the 1980s when the population was extremely low (Sue, 2019). Conservation organisations are focusing on protecting the forest and shrub land for the penguins to ensure they have the space to breed and build their nests, thousands of plants have also been planted around the areas for protection. Although this all sounds beneficial, help is still needed to protect more areas or to re-establish areas that have already been cleared.

In New Zealand, there is the Otapahi Reserve which is a protected area for the penguins, to ensure that they can live and breed without being disturbed by humans and predators. Dunedin Wildlife Hospital has also begun catching penguins with injuries and rehabilitating them. Veterinarian Lisa Argilla states, “We do what we have to do to save the species, as we cannot fix climate change and habitat destruction” (, 2014)

There are a large amount of conservation groups and rehabilitation centres now working to support the Yellow-eyed Penguins and to help increase the population. Every effort is being made to ensure that the population is protected, and with support from the public we can all strive to make the maximum impact and hopefully save the Yellow-eyed Penguin from extinction.

Did you know about Yellow-eyed Penguins? And how rare they are? Did you like what you learned by reading this blog? Leave a comment below. And please help us to continue to provide you with penguin news articles by donating to Penguins International.

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Center for Biological Diversity (2019). Yellow-eyed Penguin. [image] Available at: [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019]. (2019). Yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

Ellenberg, U., Mattern, T. and Seddon, P. (2009). Habituation potential of yellow-eyed penguins depends on sex, character and previous experience with humans. Animal Behaviour, 77(2), pp.289-296.

Ellenberg, U., Setiawan, A., Cree, A., Houston, D. and Seddon, P. (2007). Elevated hormonal stress response and reduced reproductive output in Yellow-eyed penguins exposed to unregulated tourism. General and Comparative Endocrinology, 152(1), pp.54-63.

Mattern, T., Ellenberg, U., Houston, D. and Davis, L. (2007). Consistent foraging routes and benthic foraging behaviour in yellow-eyed penguins. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 343, pp.295-306.

Sue, M. (2019). Penguins: Yellow-eyed Penguins – Megadyptes antipodes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 31 Aug. 2019].

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