African Black-footed Penguin

The black-footed penguin has black legs and feet, placed close to the short pointed tail, forcing it to walk upright, like other penguin species. This penguin has the characteristic white underbelly and black back. African penguins will occasionally go through a molting period called a catastrophic molt during which they will lose all of their feathers at once to make way for new feathers. Because penguins rely on their feathers for insulation and waterproofing, they remain on land for the duration of the molt, which lasts for a couple of weeks. Being unable to hunt for the duration of the molt, penguins will increase their food intake in the weeks leading up to the molt to ensure they have enough energy stored in their bodies to last until their new feathers come in. During nesting seasons (spring and fall), penguins live in large breeding colonies called rookeries. Breeding pairs are monogamous.  Nests must be constantly guarded from other penguins, so each parent takes a turn incubating the eggs and feeding the young while the other parent searches for food.

African Black-footed Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

Distribution: Coast of South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique

Diet in the Wild: Sardines, anchovy, some squid and crustaceans

Diet at Caldwell Zoo: Whole herring and capelin

IUCN Red List Status: Endangered, population decreasing

Threats: Overfishing, egg collection and guano (penguin feces) collection by humans, oil spills

Interesting Facts:

The black chest spots on adult African penguins can be used to tell individuals apart, as no two penguins have the same patterning! At Caldwell Zoo, each penguin has a colored wing-band to make identification easy for our zookeepers. Male penguins have a wing-band on their right wing while female penguins are banded on their left wing.

The black and white coloration of these penguins is actually a form of camouflage called countershading. When swimming, their white bellies blend with the sunlight coming from above, and their black backs blend with the dark ocean floor.

A penguin’s wings are specially adapted to propel it through the water at high speeds. The African penguin can use its wings to swim at top speeds of 12.5 mph (20 km/h)!


Speedy is one of our bachelors. However, that does not stop him from proudly performing his mating call. He is one of our sweetest penguins, occasionally allowing his keepers to pet his back. Typically you can find Speedy up on the rock which makes up the roof of some of the nesting boroughs on exhibit. To the staff at Caldwell, it is affectionately known as “Speedy’s rock”.

Sweet Pea

Sweet Pea got her name because when was younger she was noticeably docile. As an adult she still maintains a bit of those qualities but she is spirited when she needs to be, like when she protects her nest. During her time in Las Vegas, Sweet Pea and her mate at the time successfully produced a chick named Piper, another resident here at Caldwell Zoo. Sweet Pea is one of our most vigorous and talented fish eaters. While the penguins do get hand fed, the keeper staff will occasionally toss a fish to her since she is very good at catching the fish in her mouth.


Jasper is a pair-bond with Sweet Pea, and she has herself a good man. Jasper is one of the gentlest males we have. He is a very good spouse to Sweet Pea, taking turns sitting on their nest. He rarely gets into quarrels with the other males and he is also comparatively very mellow with the keepers during breeding season. He is the only penguin here at Caldwell who porpoises while they swim, which he will do on occasion.


Originally named “Gus,” she obtained the name Piper from a naming contest that was held at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas where she was hatched. While Piper was not hatched here at Caldwell Zoo, she is the offspring to Sweet Pea. Mother and daughter were brought here to Caldwell together. Like her mother, Piper is a very quick and enthusiastic eater, a trait she has had her whole life.


Jeff is an exceptional mate to Piper. If she calls, he quickly comes over and will protect her if he feels the need. He likes to sit in the borough next to where Piper is sitting on their nest and makes sure nobody gets too close. He and Piper even go through their catastrophic molt together. Jeff was our rock star when being trained to stand on a scale for a routine weigh-in. He is typically one of the first to step up and get weighed. For a while he was too good. He would step on, get his fish, and then just stand there, turning down fish and staring at the keepers until he was ready to step off.


Donut is in a monogamous relationship with his girlfriend Buttercup. The couple opted for building their nest outside of a borough. Penguins have a distinct loud bray like mating display call; a call between mates. Each of our penguins has a unique sound to their call that makes them easily identified by the keepers. Donut’s call is the most recognizable; his call is very strong and reminds us of a freight train. Donut is our largest and heaviest penguin, typically weighing in around eight pounds. He needs the very healthy appetite to sustain his broad physique.


Taz is the most timid of all our penguins. Much of the time he needs other penguins to come up with him at feedings. Taz can be recognized by his eating routine. Most of the time he will take the fish handed to him, run over to the side and manipulate the fish before either eating it or dropping it in the water. When it falls into the water, he officially deems it not worth retrieving. It is Taz’s signature move.


Unlike her man, Donut, Buttercup is a very dainty eater. Almost always she will gently take the fish and quickly drop it to her feet. She then proceeds to barely lift it off the floor before dropping it again, and again, and again. Each time she takes it further and further away from the colony. She eventually eats it. That is unless Donut or somebody else snags it away. Didn’t her mother teach her not to play with her food? However, when a fish is thrown in to the water she is one of the quickest to get it.


Wangari was given her name through a naming contest at her previous facility in North Carolina. She is named after Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan environmentalist who founded the Green Belt Movement and who received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari loves to play and interact with her keepers. After feedings she will race them to door so she can spend time with them off exhibit. While being petted, she will many times talk to the keeper by braying. Her favorite enrichment is bubbles but she very much enjoys anything that dangles; she will play with keeper’s shoelaces and keys. When she gets very excited she will sprint around flapping her wings.

All Rights Reserved