Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli): eligible for downlisting?

This discussion was first published as part of the 2012 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2014.

BirdLife species factsheet for Royal Penguin

Royal Penguin Eudyptes schlegeli is confined when breeding to Macquarie Island and nearby Bishop and Clerk Islands, Australia. In 1984-1985, the breeding population on Macquarie Island was estimated at c.850,000 pairs, with an earlier count of over 1,000 pairs on Bishop and Clerk Islands combined, thus the population size has been estimated at c.1.7 million mature individuals (Garnett and Crowley 2000). The species is listed as Vulnerable under criterion D2 on the basis that it has a very small range, occupying only three islands in close proximity to one-another, in which the population was thought to be stable, but it was considered to be prone to the effects of human activities or stochastic events, and thus capable of becoming Critically Endangered or even Extinct in a very short time period.

On land, some eggs and young are lost to rats, and before their eradication also to cats, whilst disease could possibly be introduced by visitors (Garnett and Crowley 2000). In addition, breeding success can be negatively affected by disturbance from researchers and tourists, although tourists are managed to prevent this (Garnett and Crowley 2000). Whilst at sea, the species suffers some mortality through the ingestion of plastics and was thought to be possibly affected by fishing operations around sub-Antarctic islands. In the long-term, the effects of climate change on sea-surface temperature and food supply may also pose threats.

Recently, however, it has been argued that there are in fact no credible threats to the largest colony on Macquarie Island (S. Garnett in litt. 2011). Casual observations suggest that the population is increasing. At-sea foraging when breeding is said to be in protected waters near Macquarie Island and in the Exclusive Economic Zone where fishing is strictly regulated (S. Garnett in litt. 2011). Thus, there are no obvious threats that could result in the species qualifying as Critically Endangered or Extinct in a short space of time.

Based on the clarification of the species’s status, it is suggested that it could qualify for downlisting to Least Concern on the basis that it no longer meets or approaches the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN criteria. It is noted that such a category change may rest on the continuation of management practices already in place. Comments are invited on this possible category change and further information on the species is requested.


Garnett, S. T. and Crowley, G. M. (2000) The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. Canberra: Environment Australia.

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3 Responses to Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli): eligible for downlisting?

  1. Joe Taylor says:

    The following comments were received from Rosemary Gales on 31 January 2012:

    Royal Penguin: Population trend: we have no information on this. The initial estimates from the 1980s can only be considered ‘guesstimates” and we have no current population estimate. Not sure where the “casual estimates “ of a stable population come from, they have no quantitative basis (as agreed by Garnett et al. 2010). In terms of changes in management actions/consequences of management actions m=on Macquarie Island, I think it is too early to declare the island free of rodents – we are only into Phase 2 – the hunting phase – of the program (which in itself poses disturbance to some species).

    We do intend to get a clearer view of the size of the Royal population in the next few years (amongst a sea of competing priorities) – and also in a couple of years will be more confident regarding the presence/absence of the feral pests. I note also the recent declines that have been recorded for Macaroni Penguins resulting from disease, so perhaps disease should be flagged as a potential threat to Royals at Macquarie.

    In the absence of data that is in any way reliable, I would post-pone consideration of down-listing to the next round.

  2. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information, our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List is to pend the decision on Royal Penguin Eudyptes schlegeli and keep this discussion open until early 2015, while leaving the current Red List category unchanged in the 2014 update.

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  3. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisation to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there has been no change to our preliminary proposal for the 2014 Red List status of this species.

    This discussion will remain open for further comments and information until early 2015, and the current Red List category will remain unchanged in 2014.

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