African penguins prefer to be in deep poo, but humans have scraped away the meters-thick layers of guano—in which the birds once burrowed their nests—to sell as fertilizer. Now, conservationists hoping to protect the endangered creatures have devised a novel solution to the avian housing problem: fiberglass igloos.

As we learned from an article in the Christian Science Monitor, the penguins on Dyer Island, off South Africa, have been forced to nest directly on island rock, where their eggs and chicks are vulnerable to predatory gulls. That exposure, combined with oil spills, overfishing, and a decrease in food sources, has devastated the penguin population, which is down to about 2,000 pairs today from 22,655 pairs in 1979.

The conservationists have installed 200 igloos so far (they plan to install 2,000 eventually), and the penguins seem to making themselves at home.

“The penguins occupy those burrows like greased lightning,” says Les Underhill, a professor of avian demography at the University of Cape Town. “Anything that provides shelter is better than an open nest. You can feel quite moved for these poor birds who are really struggling.”

Sounds like a good solution. Maybe FEMA should see if the conservationists are available for consultation in the event of a human housing crisis.

Story by Joe Smith. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2006. The story was added to in July 2009.


Copyright Environ Press 2006.