Dr Jessica Kemper

Email: jkemper [at] mfmr [dot] gov [dot] na
ADU graduated: PhD 2006
Thesis: Heading towards extinction? Demography of the African Penguin in Namibia [PDF full-thesis 7.1 MB]

PhD, University of Cape Town

Qualifications and experience

After growing up in five countries on five continents (Argentina, Japan, Germany, the USA and South Africa), I obtained my BSc and BSc(Hons) (Zoology) degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand (1989-1993). Shortly after completing my MSc degree in Botany in 1997 at the Institute for Plant Conservation at the University of Cape Town, the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board contracted me for four months to monitor African Penguins on Dassen Island. There I made the (perhaps subjective) discovery that penguins are infinitely more charismatic than renosterbos shrubs. Despite this realization, I took up a one-year post as a conservation officer at the Botanical Society of South Africa during 1998, primarily to investigate incentives for private land owners to conserve threatened ecosystems, but spent much of my spare time helping to rehabilitate seabirds at the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB).

While assisting with monitoring birds on Mercury Island in Namibia during 1999, I noticed that little of the data collected on penguins in Namibia had been evaluated. As a result, demographic parameter estimates for the regional population of African Penguins in Namibia were lacking, preventing the reliable estimation of population trends or an understanding of the causal factors behind trends. This recognition gave rise to my PhD project, entitled “Heading towards extinction? Demography of the African Penguin in Namibia”. For the duration of the project, I was based in the remote, sandy and windswept coastal town of Lüderitz, Namibia. My fieldwork was on Halifax Island, which I usually accessed by paddle-ski, but I also collated the huge volume of data gathered over several decades by Namibian island staff. My thesis provides estimates for a range of demographic parameters for African Penguins in Namibia (which, in part, differ substantially from those for the South African penguin population) and assesses the accuracy and suitability of various monitoring techniques used to obtain them.

Paddling to Halifax Island Catching a logger penguin

Between 2005 and 2007, I coordinated the Seabird Task Group of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) project on “Top Predators as Indicators of Ecosystem Change in the BCLME”. Since February 2008 I have been employed by the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) in Namibia as a senior biologist and head of the Seabird Section. I am still based in Lüderitz, continue to paddle occasionally to Halifax Island and am responsible for the (conservation) management of all seabirds and islands in Namibia. I also run MFMR’s Seabird Rehabilitation Centre and coordinate seabird rescue and rehabilitation efforts. During the last year, I have been much involved in developing a proposal for the proclamation for Namibia’s first Marine Protected Area, which encompasses all seabird breeding islands.

(Research) interests

Much of my research and management activities focus on monitoring population trends and improving the conservation status of seabirds breeding and / or foraging in Namibia, as well as to develop ecosystem health indices based on seabird population parameters. Research also includes aspects of seabird foraging ecology, including the identification of important seabird foraging areas and habitats in Namibia, foraging behaviour and diet (and its temporal and spatial variability), particularly to assess seabird conservation needs and to investigate food chain dynamics and shifts in ecosystem functioning in the Northern Benguela. This work is mainly done in collaboration with other sections at MFMR, Dr K. Ludynia and the Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town.

My favourite pastimes include taking my dogs for daily walks in the Namib desert, being with my family, indulging in a fine cup of Earl Grey tea, and following a thrilling 5-day cricket match; my ultimate pet hate is any form of pollution.


1. Papers in refereed journals

2. Reports / chapters

3. Popular articles