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African Penguin

At the Zoo: African Penguin

Animal Story

There are 18 species of penguins in the world. 5 are true warm weather species. That means that almost a third of penguin species spend their time in warm weather instead of the chilly Antarctic. Our African penguins are most comfortable in 65-85 degree temperatures, so they are very content here in Florida.

Most penguins may look alike, but there are ways to tell them apart. Each penguin has a unique pattern of markings on its chest, like a fingerprint. Younger penguins look grayish and don’t have patterns like the adults. They look different because they still have their juvenile plumage, or baby feathers. When they are 1 to 2 years old, they go through their first molt. This is a 2 week process where they lose baby feathers and grow new adult feathers.

An easy way to tell our penguins apart is the colored bands we put on their flippers. No 2 penguins have the same colored band on the same side. You can also tell the penguin’s sex by the band. Males have bands on the right flipper; females have bands on the left flipper. When 2 penguins have the same color band but on different sides, that means they are a mated pair. African penguins have only one mate that they stay with for life and are devoted parents. After the female lays an egg, the pair shares parenting duties by taking turns sitting on the egg and caring for the newborn chick.

We have 12 unique African penguins in our colony. "Abe" is the elder statesman of our colony, hatched on May 14, 1992.  He is very laid back and tends not to overreact.

"Thalia" is our youngest penguin, hatched on June 2, 2014.  She is very independent.  "Thalia" always reached her milestones with relative ease, compared to our other penguin chicks.  When it came to first feedings, introduction to penguin groups and swimming in the pool for the first time, all were handled like a pro.  Her parents, "Thumbelina" and "Flanningan," can be found in our penguin colony at Penguin Beach.

"Violet" is a male penguin. It is very difficult to tell penguins’ sex when they are chicks. Before we did a DNA blood test to figure out the sex, we put a purple band on the chick’s left flipper because we thought "Violet" was a female. He is our best nest builder. He works year-round, collecting leaves, grass, and whatever else he thinks is best for his nest. His nickname is “The Collector.”

About: African Penguin

Natural Habitat

Coastal areas.


Southwestern coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and South Africa.


Weight: 5-9 pounds.
Height: up to 27 inches.


10-20 in the wild, 25 in captivity.


Lays 2 eggs, with an incubation period of 38-42 days.

Diet Details

Small fish.

Fun Facts: African Penguin

  • African penguins are monogamous. The penguin pair usually stays together for many years and often move back to their old nesting sites, too.
  • African penguins start breeding at about 4 years old. Eggs are laid in pairs and both parents help incubate them.
  • African penguins can dive under water for up to 2.5 minutes while trying to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines.
  • To keep dry and insulated in cold water, African penguins are covered in dense, water-proof feathers. Penguins “sneeze” to remove sea salt from their bodies.
  • Unlike other birds, penguins do not have hollow bones, which works well for penguins because they need to dive underwater and not fly.

Conservation: African Penguin

In the last 100 years, African Penguins in the wild have lost 90% of their population. The main causes of the big decline are over-fishing, oil spills, and global climate change. As such, the main focus on African penguins here at the Zoo is breeding. Our penguins are part of a Species Survival Plan. Each pair is matched up based on their genetics as a way to keep the population as diverse as possible. The Zoo has produced a total of 8 chicks in the past 4 years. We participate in nearly 100 AZA Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs, cooperative breeding, and conservation programs to help ensure species survival.

Additionally the Lowry Park Zoo supports the efforts of the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). They rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured and orphaned penguins back to the coasts of South Africa.

Species Survival Plan Logo

How You Can Help

Adopt an Animal!

You can help support expert animal care at the Zoo as well as local and global conservation efforts by purchasing a symbolic animal adoption package.

Join Us!

When you become a member of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo you are supporting conservation year-round.

Be a Conservation Leader!

Each of us can help protect the environment, wildlife, and habitats through choices we make in our daily lives. Even small changes can make big positive impacts on the world around us.

  • Eat sustainably caught seafood (see Seafood Watch) – These support healthy marine food webs allowing penguins to hunt for food closer to their nest sites.
  • Clean up litter – Litter can wash or blow into waterways and travel long distances in the ocean until marine life like African penguins get tangled in it or accidentally eat it.
  • Fish responsibly – Make sure you don’t leave hooks or fishing line behind since these can injure or kill wildlife.

Related Events

  • Tampa Bay City Pass
  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums
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Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo is operated by the Lowry Park Zoological Society, an independent 501(c)(3) charitable organization committed to excellence in education, conservation and research. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), and is featured among the “Top 25 Zoos in the U.S” by TripAdvisor (2015) and “10 Best Zoos in the U.S.” by Trekaroo (2015). The Zoo is located at 1101 W. Sligh Avenue in Tampa, one mile west of I-275 (exit 48) and is open seven days a week, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 

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