More than five dozen African penguins have met a sad end in South Africa, in what bird conservationists say is a most uncommon incident. AFP reports that 63 of the endangered birds were found dead Friday on Boulders Beach in Simon's Town, a suburb of Cape Town, and their bodies, which otherwise appeared fine, were all marred by multiple bee stings. One penguin had been stung 27 times, the BBC notes.
- The injuries: The penguins were all stung on their flippers and near their eyes, which a spokesperson from the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds tells the outlet makes sense, since those are the parts of a penguin's body that don't have feathers. "Seeing the number of stings in individual birds, it would have probably been deadly for any animal of that size," Dr. Katta Ludynia says.
- 'A very rare occurrence': David Roberts, the group's clinical veterinarian, tells AFP that dead honeybees, which die after administering stings, were also found at the scene, and that what happened was a "fluke." The outlet notes the beach area is part of a national park in which the bees and the penguins—small creatures native to South Africa and Namibia, whose numbers have been declining due to commercial fishing and environmental changes—usually co-exist in harmony.
- So what happened here? A marine biologist with South African National Parks tells the BBC it's most likely that the penguins disturbed one of the bees' nests or hives. "The bees don't sting unless provoked," Alison Kock says. If a nest was disturbed, however, it could have caused "a mass of bees to flee the nest, swarm, and [become] aggressive." The agency says samples from the penguins have been sent out for toxicology and disease testing, while the birds themselves are set to undergo post-mortems.
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