Penguins at Home in South African Town

Thousands of Avian Squatters Seize Prime Seaside Real Estate

Jackass penguins enjoy the beach near Simon's Town, South Africa. Jennifer Schmidt hide caption

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itoggle caption Jennifer Schmidt
pair of penguins

A pair of jackass penguins. Jennifer Schmidt hide caption

itoggle caption Jennifer Schmidt

Near the southern tip of Africa, penguins have taken over some of the most valuable real estate on the continent. The birds rarely roost on the mainland. But they've established a beachhead at Simon's Town, a seaside village south of Cape Town.

As NPR's Jason Beaubien reports, the first of the jackass penguins — named for their distinctive braying sound — arrived in 1983. They were soon joined by thousands of feathered friends, and a national park was created. But the birds ignore manmade barriers, and often wander into town, where they are frequently killed by cars despite a "penguin crossing" sign.

Despite the dangers, the Simon's Town colony is thriving. But overall numbers of the jackass species have declined sharply in recent decades, plagued by competition from commercial fishing. Beaubien reports that South African wildlife officials have even taken to calling them "African" penguins to improve their image.

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