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Humboldt penguin population declines and raises warning of extinction in Chile

The population of Humboldt penguins has declined dramatically in areas along Chile’s central coast, making them one of the most vulnerable penguin species of the world’s 18 and putting them at risk of extinction, experts warn.

Last year, scientists carried out a survey on two islands off the central Chilean coast and detected 842 breeding pairs or active nests. This year, they found just one breeding pair.

Paulina Arce, a veterinarian who specializes in penguins, says penguin populations on all islands surveyed have declined or stayed the same.

“This could lead to an even more drastic scenario, which could be the extinction of the species,” Arce said.

Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) inhabit colonies along the Pacific coasts of Chile and Peru. They get their name because they bathe in the cold Humboldt Current. These flightless birds can weigh up to 5 kg and measure up to 70 cm tall when adults.

Diego Penaloza, president of the Safari Conservation Foundation, says the main threats to penguins in the wild are marine pollution, lack of supervision of domestic animals and disturbance of their nesting sites.

Additionally, bird flu, exacerbated by the El Niño weather phenomenon, has wreaked havoc on penguin and other wildlife populations. As a result, Humboldt penguin reproduction rates have plummeted to almost zero, according to Javiera Meza, head of Biodiversity Conservation at Chile’s National Forest Composition (Conaf).

“It was the bird flu plus the El Niño phenomenon that moved all the food to the southern zone, and therefore, throughout northern Chile, reproduction fell to almost zero levels, and, in addition, many penguins died,” he said. Meza. “It was like the perfect storm.”

Some animals haven’t been seen in the wild for decades

*With report from Reuters TV; text by Natalia Ramos and Noelle Har; and editing by Sandra Maler

Source: CNN Brasil

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