People in South Africa waddle 130km for endemic penguin species

Raising awareness of African penguins’ fight for existence is a tormenting business. Photojournalist Linda Markovina discovered as much while walking the equivalent of three marathons in one week along the coast of South Africa’s Western Cape.

Conservationists and concerned citizens took part in the sponsored ‘waddle’ from Gansbaai to Boulders Beach in April, trekking 130 kilometres to raise awareness for the endangered African penguin.

“By the third day I was in a state of mental torment and suffering the wrath of my feet with every passing kilometre,” Markovina writes in AG. “The blisters were also racking up faster than Eskom’s excuses for load shedding.”

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is endemic to the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on a stretch of 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay. Today the so-called ‘jackass penguins’ are in serious danger, with oil spills and over-fishing pushing the species towards extinction. Experts estimate that the minimum viable population is 50,000 pairs – the current population wallows below half of this critical threshold.

“The critical decline equates to having lost 1,600 birds per week (more than two birds per hour) over the past century,” writes Markovina, “which is all the more reason why we need to start taking action to reverse this while we still can.”

Markovina took part in the walk as part of a Penguin Promises campaign seeking to raise awareness by trekking through seven penguin colonies along South Africa’s Western Cape.

“To affect any meaningful change we should always look to be planting seeds in the public consciousness in any way, whether this be in the form of robust action, covert films or shock tactics. Or simply going for a walk.”

And Markovina believes that the week-long waddlers’ hard work and torment have certainly been worth the effort:

“I now have a completely different perspective of long distance walking, but I also have a newfound respect for a little seabird that was my inspiration.”

Images via Linda Markovina

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