The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) is endemic to (found only in) New Zealand. In Māori (the language spoken by the Māori people, the indigenous population of New Zealand), the species is known as hoiho. The yellow-eyed penguin is the fourth largest penguin, standing at 24 to 31 inches (62-79cm) tall. The species generally nests in coastal forest or scrub, and unlike many other penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin prefers to nest in private, rather than in a colony. There are estimated to be less than 4,000 individuals, with only 439 breeding pairs on mainland New Zealand. They were historically taken as food, but habitat destruction and invasive species are currently the penguins’ main threats. Conversion of their nesting habitats to farmland and urban development and a decrease in quality of remaining habitat led to a sharp decrease in the number of yellow-eyed penguins in the 1990s, especially on the mainland. Invasive species—including feral ferrets, stoats, dogs, cats, pigs and possums—prey on the penguins. They are also susceptible to epidemics of disease, some of which occur through introduced species. According to studies on the effects of fisheries, fishing gear also poses a threat, as penguins become entangled and drown. Furthermore, recent data suggests climate change many be altering the food webs of yellow-eyed penguins, making it more difficult for the species to find suitable prey. Despite numerous threats to this endangered species, conservation organizations like the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust are working to decrease the effects of threats and advocate for the species. Conservation efforts are helping to increase the size and quality of habitat for the penguins, create protected areas for the species and reduce hazards.
Photo and haiku: Samantha Oester