Swarm of bees killed 63 endangered African penguins in a rare occurrence near Cape Town, bird conservationists in South Africa say.
The protected birds, from a colony in Simonstown, were found on a beach with multiple bee-stings but no other physical injuries.
Post-mortems found that the birds had been stung around the eyes.
“This is a very rare occurrence. We do not expect it to happen often, it’s a fluke,” vet David Roberts told AFP.
The specialist, who works for the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (Sanccob), said dead bees were also found at the scene.
“Samples are still being tested for other toxicity possibilities and diseases to rule out any other potential cause,” said South Africa’s national parks agency (SANParks) at the weekend.
“No external physical injuries were observed on any of the birds. The post-mortems revealed that all the penguins had multiple bee stings, and many dead bees were found at the site where the birds had died,” the statement informed.
African penguins are distinctive for their small size, and live on the coast and islands of South Africa and Namibia – though some have been spotted as far north as Gabon.
Their populations are rapidly declining, the International Union for Conservation of Nature says, in main part because of commercial fishing and what it calls “environmental fluctuation”.
Cape honeybees are also part of the local ecosystem, which features several conservation areas.
The freak incident is not unusual to come across reports or pictures of individual animals such as pets suffering from bee stings on social media.
In May 2020, three dogs were killed by a swarm of bees in Tuscon, Arizona. The Tuscon Fire Department informed in a series of tweets that while one dog succumbed immediately after the attack, the others passed away shortly after arriving at the vet.
In July 2021, a swarm of over 5,000 bees attacked a resident of Diamond Bar, California, and the pets in his home. He was stung over 40 times. His pet, Rolo, a chocolate Labrador retriever, survived. However, two smaller dogs that belonged to his daughter did not.
Despite these rare occurrences, it is important to note that different species of bees play crucial roles in different ecosystems. From pollination to the production of honey, bees serve several purposes.