CONSERVATIONISTS have donated £20,000 in a attempt to save the rockhopper penguin from extinction.
Numbers of the charismatic birds have plummeted by up to 80 per cent in the past six decades – but the reason for the decline is a mystery.
Now the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) is providing the money to help carry out research on Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic, which is the largest breeding site for the penguins.
RZSS, which runs Edinburgh Zoo, recently hosted a workshop with conservation experts from across the world to discuss the drastic drop in populations. In response, the charity has provided 20,000 for a boat so conservation workers can move easily between nest sites on Tristan da Cunha and surrounding islands. This will allow them to carry out a survey on the existing population, monitor fluctuations and investigate possible reasons for the decline.
Rob Thomas, the conservation and research manager for RZSS, thinks climate change could be one reason, leaving the penguins struggling to find enough food.
He said: "The climate-change process is affecting prey species. There's a whole ecosystem shift that's probably leading to their decline."
He believes action is needed urgently before it is too late.
"We don't know if the declines that we are noticing now are due to something that happened five years ago," said Mr Thomas. "It could well be that intervention now is already too late, but if we leave it another five to ten years it's definitely not looking good."
He added: "It's a charismatic species. If we can't find the effort or the resources to save the charismatic ones, then what hope have we got for any of them?"
Rockhopper penguins live on rocky terrain and hop from boulder to boulder. They have yellow crests which look like long, upward-sweeping eyebrows.
Their eyes are red, their beaks reddish-brown and their feet pink.
Rockhoppers eat a variety of fish, such as pilchards, sardines and anchovies, as well as squid and krill.
Edinburgh Zoo has a colony of 17 rockhoppers.