Today’s extract is about Dassen Island.


Nine kilometers from the shore of South Africa and 50 kilometers north of Cape Town, lies the starfish-shaped penguin sanctuary of Dassen Island.

Dassen Island is the main breeding ground of the African Penguin. In 1930, there were more than 1.5 million penguins living on the 4km island. Today, there are only 56 000 breeding pairs in the world.

Dassen Island has had many names over the years. It was first called Elizabeth Island by the Dutch seaman Joris van Spilbergen when he arrived there in 1601.

Four years later, Sir Edward Michelborne of the English East India Company was trapped on the island with several companions for three days. He called it Coney Island because of the abundance of conies, or dassies, that lived there. For the same reason, Jan van Riebeeck – the first governor of the Cape – renamed it Dassen Island, and the name has stayed the same ever since.

The island is also one of two areas in South Africa where the white Pelican breeds. The other is the St Lucia wetland in Kwazulu-Natal. The bird has been listed as rare, with a population of only 2 500 breeding pairs. At least 500 of those pairs live on Dassen Island.

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