Honey bees killed endangered penguins in South Africa

A swarm of honey bees is believed to have killed 63 endangered penguins in South Africa by stinging them in their eyes, a preliminary investigation has found.

The carcasses of the African penguins were found within the Boulders African penguin colony according to a statement by government-run South African National Parks (SANParks).

Officials have said they suspect the penguins died from multiple bee stings sometime between Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

A variety of experts - including veterinarians from the SANParks Cape Town branch and penguin specialists from the nonprofit Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) are looking into the cause of death.

'After tests, we found bee stings around the penguins' eyes,' said SANCCOB's David Roberts, a clinical veterinarian. 

'This is a very rare occurrence. We do not expect it to happen often, it's a fluke. There were also dead bees on the scene,' he said on Sunday. 

The bodies of the penguins were transported to SANCCOB for further analysis, with the experts taking biological samples that were sent for disease and toxicology testing.

SANCCOB's initial post-mortem analysis found the penguins had no external physical injuries, but multiple bee stings were found in all the carcasses.

Investigators also found many dead bees at the side where the birds were found dead, officials said. Another dead penguin carcass, also with multiple bee stings, was found on Fish Hoek beach, found around four miles north of Simon's Town.

'Preliminary investigations suggest that the penguins died because of being stung by a swarm of Cape honey bees,' SANParks officials said in a statement.

It has not yet been explained by officials why the bees may have stung the penguins, which are a highly threatened species with a high risk of extinction.

The birds are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's red list.