A swarm of bees has killed over 60 endangered African penguins in South Africa, according to reports.
The 63 birds were found dead inside the Boulders African penguin colony in Simonstown, Cape Town, South African National Parks (SANParks) said in a statement. It is believed that the deaths occurred sometime between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Post mortem results revealed that the penguins had multiple bee stings. This combined with the fact that "many dead bees were found at the site where the birds had died" has led experts to believe that the penguins may have been killed by a swarm of Cape honey bees.
"Usually the penguins and bees co-exist," Dr. Alison Kock, a marine biologist with SANParks, told BBC. "The bees don't sting unless provoked — we are working on the assumption that a nest or hive in the area was disturbed and caused a mass of bees to flee the nest, swarm and became aggressive," she continued, adding that unfortunately "the bees encountered a group of penguins on their flight path."
Post-mortems found that the birds had been stung around the eyes and on their flippers, which are "the parts that are not covered by feathers," said Dr. Katta Ludynia, from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob). One of the penguins had reportedly been stung 27 times. Ludynia explained that, considering the number of stings in individual birds, "it would have probably been deadly for any animal of that size."
National parks officials say this was the first known attack at Boulders Beach.
"We are grateful to all our conservation partners, especially SANCCOB and the City of Cape Town, for assisting us in investigating this unusual event," said Kock. "No more dead African penguins were found on site today, and we will continue to monitor the situation."
African penguins live on the coast and islands of South Africa and Namibia but their populations are rapidly declining. Dr. Alistair McInnes, Seabird Conservation Programme Manager at BirdLife South Africa noted that, as of last year, there were fewer than 13,000 pairs in South Africa and by 2035 the African penguin could be extinct from the west coast of South Africa if current patterns are maintained, according to a 2018 study cited by BirdLife.
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