Metals in Feathers of African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus): Considerations for the Welfare and Management of Seabirds Under Human Care

  • S. Squadrone
  • M. C. Abete
  • P. Brizio
  • D. Pessani
  • L. Favaro


Bird feathers have been proven to be reliable indicators of metal exposure originating from contaminated food and polluted environments. The concentrations of 15 essential and non-essential metals were investigated in African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) feathers from a Northwestern Italian zoological facility. These birds are exclusively fed with herring from the northeast Atlantic Ocean. Certain elements, such as Hg and Cd, reflected the bioaccumulation phenomena that occur through the marine food chain. The levels of Cr, Mn, and Ni were comparable to those registered in feathers of birds living in polluted areas. These results are important for comparative studies regarding the health, nutrition and welfare of endangered seabirds kept under human care.


Metal accumulation Biomonitoring Penguins Feathers 



The authors would like to thank Zoom Torino S.p.A. (, and in particular Dr. Daniel Sanchez, Dr. Valentina Isaja, Dr. Laura Ozella, and Dr. Sara Piga for their help during collection of samples. Kim Maciej is acknowledged for providing holding data for the genus Spheniscus. Livio Favaro was supported during the writing of this manuscript by the University of Torino through a MIUR co-financed postdoctoral fellowship. The authors also thank the editor and the anonymous reviewers for useful suggestions and comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

This research was carried out with the approval of the Ethical Committee of the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale del Piemonte Liguria e Valle d’Aosta (11168; 14 July 2014).

Research Involving with Human and Animal Participants

This research conformed to the Ethical Guidelines for the Conduct of Research on Animals by Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA 2005).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale del PiemonteTorinoItaly
  2. 2.Department of Life Sciences and Systems BiologyUniversity of TorinoTorinoItaly

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