Mission: The Centre for Conservation in Punta San Juan is working to protect Humboldt penguins by establishing a breeding reserve for them, supporting biological studies and raising awareness of marine conservation issues.
Species: Humboldt penguin
Support started: 2006
Donating: In 2015, Action for the Wild donated £1,525 to help towards the census count activities along the entire Peruvian coast.
Action for the Wild donates to Punta San Juan every two years. Find out more about our last donation in our 2015 annual report:
Background: The Humboldt Penguin is found along the rugged Pacific coasts of Chile and Peru. It is presently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. The largest and reproductively most successful Peruvian population is found in Punta San Juan. Approximately 4,500 birds call Punta San Juan home. This single population represents 50% of the entire Peruvian population. Here the nutrient rich waters provide a fertile environment for the anchoveta, the primary food source of the penguin and many other sea birds and marine mammals. As a result, thousands of sea birds come to Punta San Juan to nest. Their droppings have helped to create some of the most fertile guano fields in the world, providing a soft substrate for the Humboldt penguins to dig their nest burrows.
In the past, penguin populations have been severely threatened by human invasion into the area, as people seek the guano, which they harvest and use for fertiliser. In addition, both human and feral animal populations raid the area for eggs. The highest priority of the Punta San Juan Conservation Centre is protection of this site. Without this protection, the last major stronghold of the Humboldt penguin in Peru would be jeopardized. Unlike many of the other guano sites in Peru, Punta San Juan is a peninsula, not an island. Since the formation of the Peruvian guano reserve system (a system to ensure sustainable harvesting of guano), it has been protected from the rest of the mainland by a 1.2 km long, 3 m high concrete wall. In 2006, Action for the Wild donated over £5,000 to repair the sections in the worst state of repair.
Punta San Juan has had a continuous scientific presence since 1982. The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) supported biological monitoring and facilitated some fundraising for the maintenance of the wall and support of staff until 2002. Since then, biological programmes, maintenance of the wall and employment of biological staff and guards have been supported by Saint Louis Zoo's Centre for Conservation of the Humboldt Penguin in Punta San Juan, Peru and its conservation partners.
Achievements: Since 2007, the Saint Louis Zoo has been conducting a census of the entire Peruvian coast every year. This census now shows that the total combined population in Peru, and along the cost of Chile, can be reliably estimated at only 40,000 Humboldt penguins — a tiny percentage of the population first discovered in the 19th century along the same coastline.
A thorough understanding of the current health of this population is important for conservation efforts. Veterinary examination of individual birds provides important information on the health of individual penguins, which can then be used to construct an image of the health of the entire population. Knowledge of what diseases are currently present in the colony gives the ability to monitor for changes over time. Tissue samples will be able to provide additional toxicological data to determine exposure to environmental pollutants.
Future objectives: The project has been designed as part of a long-term effort to monitor the health of the population. The data gathered, will provide a fairly complete baseline set of data off of which future studies will be based, aiding in the conservation of the Humboldt penguin at Punta San Juan.