This discussion was first published as part of the 2012 Red List update, but remains open for comment to enable reassessment in 2015.
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.