Falklands banking on king penguins to drive nature tourism

  • Wednesday 30, October 2019 10:55 AM
  • Falklands banking on king penguins to drive nature tourism
Sharjah24 – AFP: Waddling up the beach in single file, their heads held high with an almost self-important demeanor, king penguins are a major draw in the Falkland Islands' tourism industry.
Their fluffy brown chicks are nearly fearless of humans, meaning tourists at Volunteer Point, a peninsula on East Falkland Island, might get almost close enough to touch one.

"We're the furthest location north in the world that you can see king penguins," said Tony Heathman, a former sheep farmer who has spent the last 16 years taking tour groups to Volunteer Point, where a thousand pairs of the islands' signature species go to breed.

"We get lots and lots of people who... love to come here and get as close to the king penguins as they possibly can," the 70-year said. 

Kings are just one of five penguin species in the Falklands, alongside the wacky-looking rockhoppers which have yellow tassels sprouting from the side of their heads, gentoos, macaronis and the burrowing magellanics.

The Falklands have incredibly rich biodiversity, including more than 25 species of whales and dolphins, but it is the guaranteed ability to get up close with penguins that makes it a particularly enticing destination.

Tourism is a growing industry in the Falklands despite their remote location in the South Atlantic some 480 kilometers (300 miles) off Argentina and occasional political and economic hostility from Buenos Aires.

In 2018, there was a 6.3 percent increase in tourist arrivals and a 29.4 percent surge in tourist expenditure to almost £8.8 million ($11.3 million).

"One of the key attractions for us was the king penguins at Volunteer Point, so we saw plenty of those," said Flavia Tang, 29, from London, who came for a week with her partner.

Volunteer Point is one of the islands' most popular destinations, accessible from the capital Stanley by a three-hour ride in a four-wheel drive vehicle, including 11 miles of bumpy, boggy, off-road track.

The peninsula is also home to gentoos and magellanic penguins -- known locally as jackasses because of their braying-like call -- as well as oystercatchers, South American terns and ruddy-headed geese.