Emperor penguin gains Endangered Species Act protections

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finalized plans to list the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The final rule cited the substantial risk climate change poses to the species and its habitat as the primary cause for concern.

Emperor penguins heavily rely upon sea ice platforms for breeding grounds, predator avoidance and sustenance, making the resilience of the species closely tied to sea ice conditions. The USFWS may deem a species as threatened if the agency determines that the species faces the risk of extinction within the foreseeable future. In the final rule, the USFWS acknowledged the current robust population estimated at 625,000-650,000 individuals but backed the listing due to threats posed by climate change.

“Under all scenarios, sea-ice extent and the global population of emperor penguins are projected to decline in the future…” stated the proposal. “Accordingly, the resilience, redundancy and representation of the emperor penguin will also decrease across all scenarios.”

Under low and high-emission scenarios, populations are expected to decline between 26-47% by 2050.

The final rule includes what is known as a ‘4(d) rule’, created to prohibit or allow certain actions pertaining to threatened species. In the emperor penguin’s case, take, import and export of the species will be illegal apart from specific USFWS and state fish and wildlife agency actions. Under certain circumstances, the USFWS may also issue permits to carry out prohibited activities for a variety of purposes including species propagation or survival, education and incidental take.

Endangered Species Act protections for the emperor penguin will take effect on Nov. 25.

Read TWS’ Standing Position on Threatened and Endangered Species in the U.S. and Position Statement on the U.S. Endangered Species Act.