In an unfortunate blow to the endangered African penguins (Spheniscus demersus), 63 birds of the species were reportedly killed by a swarm of bees on a beach outside the South African capital of Cape Town. The announcement was made on Sunday by the Coastal Bird Conservation Foundation of Southern Africa (SANCCOB) and South African National Parks (SANParks).
The dead birds were found on Friday morning and belonged to a colony â Boulders African penguin colonyâ in Simonstown, a small town about 40 km from Cape Town. The area where the bee attack occurred is a national park, and the Cape honey bees that attacked (Apis mellifera capensis) are part of the ecosystem there.
âAfter testing, we found bee stings around the eyes of the penguins,â said David Roberts, a foundation’s clinical veterinarian. This is a very rare event. We don’t expect this to happen often, it’s a fluke. There were also dead bees at the scene, âDr David Roberts, clinical veterinarian at SANCCOB, told a news agency.
Dozens of penguins found dead
In a statement, SANParks said the deaths occurred between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning. A team of experts from SANCCOB and SANParks began to investigate the possible causes of death. The deceased birds were taken for autopsy at SANCCOB.
“No external physical injury was observed on any of the birds. Autopsies revealed that all of the penguins had multiple bee stings, and numerous dead bees were found at the site where the birds had died,” says the press release.
SANParks also said a dead penguin was found on the beach at Fish Hoek (about 34 km from Cape Town) on Friday. The SANCCOB vet confirmed that this penguin also had multiple bee stings. “However, samples are still being tested for other possibilities of toxicity and disease to rule out any other potential cause,” the statement said.
An endangered species
The abnormal incident is a serious loss to the African penguin population. They are an endangered species and are on the Red List of Threatened Species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Their populations are confined to southern African waters, and they breed on 25 islands and four mainland sites in South Africa and Namibia. However, they have been found in areas as far north as Mozambique and Gabon.
All of their breeding sites in South Africa are nature reserves, national parks or are protected. The African penguin is a protected species. It is listed in Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is also listed in Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).
Commenting on the incident, Dr Roberts said: “Penguins … must not die like this as they are already in danger of extinction. It is a protected species,” according to To AFP
Rare but deadly
Bee attacks on humans are known to occur occasionally. It is not uncommon to find reports or photos of individual animals such as animals suffering from bee stings on social media. You rarely hear of an attack of this magnitude.
However, there are few reported cases in recent times of bee attacks that have resulted in the death of more than one animal. In May 2020, three dogs were killed by a bee swarm in Tuscon, Arizona. The Tuscon Fire Department has informed in a series of tweets that while one dog succumbed immediately after the attack, the others died shortly after arriving at the vet.
In July 2021, a swarm of more than 5,000 bees attacked a resident of Diamond Bar, Calif., And pets in his home. He has been stung over 40 times. Her pet, Rolo, a chocolate Labrador retriever, survived. However, two smaller dogs that belonged to her daughter did not. Despite these rare occurrences, it is important to note that different species of bees play crucial roles in different ecosystems. From pollination to honey production, bees perform several functions.