Boulder's Beach, South Africa

I Went To South Africa & Adopted A Penguin

Derek South Africa 36 Comments

Boulder's Beach, South Africa
It is only natural to expect some sort of animal encounter when one visits the vast continent that is Africa. And even though I prefer to travel without too many expectations these days, I would be telling a fib if I were to claim that I was not at all excited about seeing the animals that inhabit this region.

Images of cheetahs, elephants and giraffes, of lions and antelopes and zebras, of leopards and hippopotamuses, flashed before me during the 15 hour flight from New York City to Johannesburg a few days ago. And of course, I also thought of…penguins. Penguins?

Maybe I am telling a slight fib after all. The idea of observing some African penguins was admittedly not an idea that I spent much time dwelling on before the trip. At first, when I noticed that penguin spotting was on the itinerary, I believe I thought to myself, ‘Penguins in Africa? Sounds nice.’ And then I returned to thinking about lions and giraffes.


On the second day of my stay in South Africa, our small group of bloggers left our hotel and headed east with our guide Shaheed, traveling along the brilliantly stunning coastline that stretches out towards the Cape of Good Hope. Our main destination was Boulder’s Beach, an area that is home to dozens of African penguins living in the wild.

And little did I know that this one experience would completely alter my view of these adorable black and white seabirds. Less than 2.8 seconds after we pulled into the small beachfront car park, spending time with penguins no longer sounded just ‘nice’. Instead, observing African penguins actually waddle around, sit on their eggs, bellow out their donkey sounds (umm, penguin sounds I guess) and cuddle with each other on the beach and in the bushes, was infinitely more fascinating to me than I ever would have imagined.

Penguins at Boulder's Beach, South Africa

Penguins at Boulder's Beach, South Africa

We spent a good hour or so walking along the coastline, because, it turns out that watching penguins in the wild does not get old at all. You might think that once you’ve seen one penguin pop out of the ocean, waddle up a small sand dune and then playfully peck his wife’s buttocks a few times, you don’t need to see any more.

But again, I wanted to see more. ‘Keep pecking!’ I would shout. Actually, I did not shout anything, but that’s what I was thinking as it all seemed surreal to be so close to these birds.

I really became a penguin addict.

In fact, I became so addicted to penguins that I went ahead and adopted one.


The day after our visit to Boulder’s Beach, our group began the morning with a visit to a place called SANCCOB, or the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds. This centre is THE place for injured or displaced seabirds to be taken, not only in Capetown, but in all of Africa and even the Southern Hemisphere.

The work they do here, whether it be nursing sick penguins back to health in order to release them back into the wild, responding to oil spills and coordinating the efforts to save the affected wildlife or caring for seabirds that are simply too frail or injured to survive on their own, is more than impressive.

You can’t help but respect not only the organization, but the passionate staff and team of international volunteers who keep this centre operating year round. And that is why, after being given a thorough tour of the premises, which included some time hanging out with their resident rockhopper penguin (which is not native to Africa and which somehow popped up on the South African coast one day), I had only one thing on my mind.


So, let me now introduce you to my penguin. His name is Elephant, and yes, I named him myself.

Penguin Adoption

Unfortunately, however, adopting a penguin is not quite the same as adopting a child. With penguins, you do not get to take them home with you, which is probably a good thing considering that I don’t have an actual ‘home’. I’m sure many people try, probably by attempting to place their penguin in their jacket pocket and sneaking out the back door, but it really is not recommended, nor wise.

As adorable as your adopted penguin may be, trust me when I say that your penguin is much better off in the capable hands of the SANCCOB staff than at your home in New York City or Berlin or Melbourne or wherever it is you may live. Once your penguin is brought back to full health at the rehabilitation centre, it will then be released back into the wild, where it truly belongs.

Penguin at SANCCOB

I know what you’re thinking. ‘The penguins in the Jim Carrey film Mr. Popper’s Penguins looked happy to be living in a big city apartment,’ but remember, that’s just the movies and in real life, penguins do not like to hang out inside of your freezer or in the toilet bowl and they aren’t as fond of visits to the park as one might think. (And don’t worry, I only watched that movie on a flight due to boredom.)

Anyway, even though I couldn’t take Elephant home with me, I can’t stop looking at his photo and thinking about him as I continue to travel around the rest of South Africa. And at this point, it really is difficult to believe that I began this trip barely excited about hanging out with some penguins and now I’ve gone ahead and introduced one into my family.

That’s South Africa for you. An endless stream of surprises….

SANCOOB South Africa
If you want to adopt a penguin, which you can do for yourself or as a gift, you can do so from the SANCCOB website. And if, or WHEN, you visit Capetown, this is one destination that should be on your list. You can take a tour, learn a great deal about penguins and you can also volunteer at the rehabilitation centre if you want to get even more involved!

So, who’s adopting a penguin??


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Comments 36

  1. Pingback: My South Africa Bucket List

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  3. I don’t think I could drag Erica away from wild penguins. Easily her favorite animal in the world.

    Also, I had no idea they made a Mr. Popper’s Penguins movie- I remember reading the book as a child. Was it as awful as I assume? Ace Ventura 3?

    1. Hey Shaun – I had no idea that was based on a book. I never came across that one while growing up. However, despite not having read it, I think it’s safe to assume that the film was far more awful. Ace Ventura 3 would have been acceptable…this film was just plain absurd.

    1. Hey Usha – Not sure where the name came front but it was the first thing that popped into my head! And you should definitely adopt one yourself 🙂

  4. Pingback: Everything I Thought About South Africa Was Wrong | Wandering Earl

  5. Hi Eric! These penguins are sooooooo sooo adorable, especially Elephant! I will never forget watching March of the Penguins and crying my eyes out. It looks like the climate is much different here for these guys than for penguins that have to live in the arctic. Do they still develop all of the same social behaviors as arctic penguins, such as the behaviors that allow them to rotate to keep warm, etc? Thanks for a great post and congrats on getting picked up by National Geo’s Intelligent Travel blog, which is how I found this post! ( -Becky

    1. Hey Rebecca – No problem about the name mixup 🙂 As for the penguin behavior, I’ll have to look that information up as I’m not too sure. They certainly acted like penguins, however, they did dig holes in the forest floor and spend time hanging out there, which is quite different. In South Africa, they obviously don’t have to worry as much about staying warm so I would imagine that they have adapted to this different climate somewhat. Either way, they were indeed adorable!

  6. Pingback: The Radar: Adopt a Penguin, Winter Weather Camera Gear, World’s Weird Snacks, – Intelligent Travel

    1. Hey Roy – That’s a good question…I can actually contact the rehabilitation centre and they will give me updates of when and where they released him into the wild, so that’s a start!

  7. Oh my God, they are cute. I can see why watching them would never get old. That is so cool that you adopted a penguin! The downside is not being able to keep in touch (’cause, wouldn’t that be cool if you could?). I don’t know about you, but if it were me, I think I’d find myself constantly wondering what was going on in his life…where is he, is he safe, is he having fun, is he making friends, does he have a mate, has he had kids yet?

    1. Hey Gray – That is a big downside but even though I can’t see my penguin, I still couldn’t turn down this opportunity! I’m just going to trust that he’s in good hands and that the rest of his life will be a happy one 🙂

    1. Thanks Eric! It really is a great organization and the staff were some of the most dedicated and enthusiastic I’ve seen anywhere. They truly love what they do and as a result, the work they do is simply remarkable!

  8. It’s awesome to find out that they have penguins in Africa too and their very own species. When I was little I got to see the penguin parade at Phillip Island about 90 minutes drive from Melbourne and for a little kid at the time it was a thrill. In 2002 on the St Kilda pier in inner city Melbourne I was really lucky and stumbled upon a colony of penguins who use the breakwater in the pier as a means of protection and a place to stay. They’ve since been protected by a barrier so that you can no longer access them but it was really beautiful to get up close to them and see their little chicks as well.

    1. Hey Matthew – I never knew there were penguins by St. Kilda. I only knew of the ones on Phillip Island, which I also visited one time. The penguins along Boulder’s Beach were great to watch as there were so many of them scattered over such a large area. Just walking along I would find two just sleeping in the bushes and I would watch them for quite a few minutes. It was a hard place to leave in the end!

      1. Most people don’t know that there are penguins in the bay. I certainly didn’t until I stumbled upon them. They’re the same species that you find at Phillip Island. Speaking of Phillip Island did you see the penguins there by day or did you see the penguin parade at night which happens to be a very famous tourist attraction?

        1. I saw the penguins on Philip Island during the day, during a visit to a friend whose family lives in the area. I never made it to the night parade…

  9. Congratulations, Earl. Great writing. I’m so pleased you are enjoying my home country. I live I Durban (when I’m not travelling), are you guys coming anywhere near here?
    Say hi to Elepant for me and give him a tickle from me…

    1. Hey Colleen – Thanks for the comment and actually, I’m in Durban right now 🙂 And I’m really enjoying this city and all it has to offer along the coast as well. Tomorrow we’re headed up to St. Lucia which I’m quite excited about too. So much to see over here in your home country that I have a feeling this will not be my only visit! Enjoy your own travels as well!

  10. SA is just awesome – there is just so much to see. I remember the Boulder penguins and also the whales in Hermanus. Are you going there? If you get chance to go north of cape town up the west coast there is the most amazing place to eat called at langebaan. I spent most of a day of my honeymoon ten years ago eating various foods off the brai in this amazing place on the beach. Don’t think it’s changed much looking at the website! Totally envious of your trip as it brings back memories including meeting so any amazing people including Nelson Mandela. Enjoy your trip!

    1. Hey Mark – I did make it to see the Boulder penguins and to Hermanus as well, all great stuff of course. I did go along the Garden Route but missed out on Langebaan. I’m now in Durban and about to head up to St. Lucia tomorrow…this really is one amazing country and I already know I’ll be back again to explore some more!

  11. Earl…strange question, but have you ever thought about doing something for kids? Writing for kids, YouTube videos/TV for kids? You have the voice for it — I bet you’d be really great at it!

    Love that you named him Elephant. Cute little guy.

    1. Hey Kate – Interesting idea, and not one that I had ever thought of. But wait a minute, are you telling me that my blog is like a children’s blog? 🙂

      Seriously though, thanks for the idea, perhaps it is one that I should follow up with…

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