Wildlife & Biodiversity

Change status of emperor penguins to ‘vulnerable’: Study

The iconic Antarctic bird needs more protection if it is to survive the rapid melting of sea ice due to global warming, it says

 
By DTE Staff
Last Updated: Thursday 10 October 2019
A colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica. Photo: Getty Images

The status of the emperor penguin, one of Antarctica’s most iconic species, in the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), should be changed to ‘vulnerable’ from ‘near threatened’, a new study has said.

The greater degree of protection accorded to the birds would provide a better chance to them of surviving the coming decades even as the Antarctic sea ice on which they depend, melts rapidly.

The research was published on October 9, 2019, in the journal Biological Conservation. It has been carried out by an international team of researchers.

The scientists reviewed more than 150 studies on the emperor penguin, its environment, behaviour and character in relation to its breeding biology to arrive at the conclusion.

“Some colonies of emperor penguins may not survive the coming decades, so we must work to give as much protection as we can to the species to give them the best chance,” Peter Fretwell, co-author of the study, said in a press statement.

According to the IUCN, a ‘vulnerable’ species is one that is likely to become endangered unless the circumstances that are threatening its survival and reproduction improve.

Vulnerability is often caused by decreases in population resulting from habitat loss or destruction of the species home.

The emperor penguin is a species that needs a special environment to breed and enhance its numbers.

The birds need sea ice during the time that they incubate their eggs and while they raise their chicks, the statement noted.

They also need stable sea ice after they complete breeding during the time when they undertake their annual moult, a period during which they cannot enter the water as their feathers are no longer water-proof.

“Currently, we have no idea how the emperors will adjust to the loss of their primary breeding habitat — sea ice,” lead author Philip Trathan was quoted as saying.

“They are not agile and climbing ashore across steep coastal land forms will be difficult. For breeding, they depend upon sea ice, and in a warming world there is a high probability that this will decrease. Without it, they will have little or no breeding habitat,” he added.

Besides the IUCN Red List status change, the experts also advocated that the emperor penguin should be listed by the Antarctic Treaty as a Specially Protected Species.

The 1959 treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation, and bans military activity on the continent.

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