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Penguin Census Report from Peru

in South America
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The Punta San Juan (PSJ) team had another busy year in 2012. An important part of their work is to carry out a census of Humboldt penguins at major sites around Peru. The objective this year was to allow Peruvian colleagues to complete their own census along the coast, while Saint Louis staff worked on logistics and provided funding for the teams counting. Below is the summary of the census carried out between the 17th January and the 4th February 2012.

In an area known as San Juanito, a total of 1,653 penguins were seen on two islets just a few hundred metres off the coast. In San Juan Marcona, which houses the largest colony of penguins in Peru, a total of 2,717 penguins were counted. Figures are slightly down compared to last year. The main difficultly during the census were the large number of cormorants that were breeding in this area, thus making it inaccessible to staff.

Punta Coles, a reserve to the south, was also visited. Its beaches often see large numbers of fur seals, along with many sea lions. The area also has a lighthouse and it seemed many of the penguins were located close to this, so staff paired up with the lighthouse guard to gain access to this area. A total of 367 penguins were counted, of which 300 were in the process of moulting. Only one part of the reserve was not counted, this was due to pelicans nesting here, however the guard mentioned that perhaps 80 penguins live in this part.

Another area that was check out was Punta La Chira, it's a small reserve, and according to the guardian and the local people there are a number of penguins in a cave, very close to the north side of the reserve. The team could only account for eight penguins while watching from a boat, and these 8 were only seen as they were very close to the entrance of the cave. It is believe there are many more nesting inside the cave. Many other areas were visited and counts taken, however numbers were low at many of the sites due to poor visibility conditions.

The total number of penguins recorded during 2012's census was 5,593 individuals. Most penguins were recorded between PSJ and San Juanito (4,370 individuals). A second count was carried out in these areas on the 3rd February and even higher numbers were recorded, totalling 5,787 penguins.

In conclusion, San Juan de Marcona continues to host the largest number of Humboldt penguins on the southern coast of Peru. Ocoña is projected as the second most important area for the Humboldt penguin. It has favourable conditions for penguin reproduction and has little and difficult land access, therefore the colonies can be left undisturbed. However other areas are not so lucky, with many seeing uncontrolled overfishing and an increase in seaweed collecting.

The project now plans to talk to fishermen and seaweed collectors about the importance of habitat for the Humboldt penguin along the entire Peruvian coast and to perform a bimonthly/quarterly report on Ocoña to assess reproductive success, environmental conditions and threats in this area. The project will also hold meetings with municipal leaders and the fishing community to work in a coordinated manner on the protection of the areas surveyed. There is also a report of hares (possibly the European hare) on one of the reserves, so it is necessary to evaluate the possible impact it may have on the penguin colony in the future.

The objectives of the project for 2013 are to continue to fund the censuses, help with the logistics, tally results and record/report numbers. The project wants to come up with a document for training local people on how to do the census, so it can be shared with all the teams, ensuring everyone is then using the same methodology.

Humboldt penguin in Peru © Punta San Juan.

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