(NEXSTAR) – More than 60 endangered African penguins died last week in a Simon’s Town, South Africa colony – now, a post-mortem investigation his giving biologists new insight into the sudden deaths.
The discovery of the 63 dead animals Friday morning at the Boulders African penguin colony prompted a joint investigation that included expert advisors and veterinarians from South African National Parks (SANParks), the City of Cape Town and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).
“Losing over 60 healthy and most likely breeding, adult African penguins is quite a blow for the Boulders colony, and the species that is already in trouble,” SANCCOB said in a news release. “Our Rangers and SANParks – Table Mountain National Park will monitor the nests in the area as some of these birds would have had eggs and chicks, and one partner often can’t supply sufficient food or leave the chicks alone.”
While the birds didn’t have any obvious external physical injuries, a post-mortem examination found that all of the penguins had been stung multiple times and dead bees littered the area where they were found, according to a news release from SANParks.
A toxicology report is still pending, but the preliminary investigation suggests that a swarm of Cape honey bees attacked the birds, stinging them on the exposed skin around the eyes and on their flippers.
“We are grateful to all our conservation partners, especially SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) and the City of Cape Town, for assisting us in investigating this unusual event,” Dr. Alison Kock, a SANParks marine biologist, said in the weekend news release. “No more dead African penguins were found on site today, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
The birds were the subject of “Penguin Town” on Netflix, narrated by actor Patton Oswalt. The documentary follows the endangered animals after they come ashore during the summer to breed, rest and wander through Simon’s Town where they are considered “gods,” Oswalt says.
African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) are highly vulnerable to extinction from a combination of overfishing of their favorite prey, damage to nests and environmental destruction from oil spills, according to the Oceana foundation.