One of our very own Marine Big 5 members is not as alone as believed. It has always been believed that the Cape Penguin was the only one to inhabit Africa, but recent research has shown that there were possibly as many as four penguin species sharing the coasts of Southern Africa. Penguin fossils have been found that date back to between 10 and 20 million years ago.
The fossils were found by Daniel Thomas of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington and Dan Ksepka of the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in North Carolina on one of their visits to South Africa. Numerous bone fragments were found among fossils of other marine animals as well. The fossils produced evidence of a very small species no taller than 30cm and also a much larger one reaching almost 1m. The tallest penguin today is still the Emporer Penguin at a height of 122cm followed by its cousin the King Penguin at 95cm.
The fossils do still however hold some mystery as there is no indication or theory as to why these species died out or moved on. Researchers speculate that it might be due to the rapid sea level changes, that might have given easier access to predators. The ancient penguin fossils also create quite a gap in the Penguin Timeline, seeing as we only have evidence up until 5 million years ago.
Relatives like Rockhoppers and Macaronis of our snazzy-dressed little friends reside more than 2000 km away on islands such as Marion, Gough and Tristan da Cunha. Which does ultimately beg the question why they all moved so far away and what drove them to it. We just hope our friendly Cape Penguins are here to stay for millions of years to come.