A swarm of bees is being blamed for attacking and killing dozens of endangered African penguins in a national park in South Africa.
The South African National Parks service said 63 of the penguins were found dead Sept. 17 inside the Boulders African penguin colony in Simonstown.
The deaths occurred suddenly between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning of last week as experts from SANParks, Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds and others were called in to investigate what happened.
“No external physical injuries were observed on any of the birds,” Table Mountain National Park explained in Facebook post. “The post-mortems revealed that all the penguins had multiple bee stings, and many dead bees were found at the site where the birds had died.”
All of it suggests a swarm of Cape honey bees stung and killed the penguins. Another dead penguin with multiple bee stings was later found on Fish Hoek beach.
“We are grateful to all our conservation partners, especially SANCCOB and the City of Cape Town, for assisting us in investigating this unusual event,” Dr Alison Kock, a marine biologist with SANParks. “No more dead African penguins were found on site … and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
Experts are still looking at other potential causes and are waiting for toxicology results.
The World Conservation Union lists the African penguin as an endangered species with a last count of 41,700 mature individuals left in the world.
The colony at Boulders Beach is one of the few left anywhere.
About a decade ago, there were perhaps 2,100 penguins living there. But its population is on the decline and mirrors what’s going on with the species elsewhere.
The birds are threatened by pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing and irresponsible tourism, according to SANParks.