The Cook Islands, a sovereign state in free association with New Zealand, uses two official legal tender currencies. The New Zealand Dollar circulates in parallel with the local Cook Islands Dollar; at the same time, the government also authorises many legal tender coins in the Cook Islands Dollar currency for collector's purposes.
Collector coins are dedicated to historical or general popular culture themes not related to the country itself. Many of them are in standard bullion sizes, but the silver Fifty Dollars - such as this coin - are not; their weight is more than a half ounce but less than one ounce, and also less than that of a British Crown, even though the diameter is the same as the latter (hence, the coins are thinner).
This coin was issued as part of a Royal Mint twelve-coin set featuring Endangered Wildlife, and is dedicated to the Jackass Penguin.
The jackass penguin is closely related to the temperate penguins of South America (the Humboldt penguin, the Galapagos penguin, and the Magellanic Penguin), and these four species are together known as the banded penguins.
Jackass penguins lay clutches of two eggs in burrows that they dig out of the thick layers of guano (seabird droppings) that cover the coastline throughout their range. While one parent feeds, the other parent guards the nest. Incubation takes longer than one month. Jackass penguins form strong pair bonds and remain with the same partner for their entire lives. They are foraging predators that primarily eat small fishes, and they typically hunt within a few hundred kilometres of their nesting sites. They are prey for the large marine predators of the area, namely sharks, fur seals, and killer whales. Like all penguins, jackass penguins provide significant parental care for both the eggs and the chicks.
Jackass penguin populations are decreasing, and scientists consider the species to be endangered (highly vulnerable to extinction). Experts believe that much of the decline is a result of decreasing amounts of their favourite fish prey, a result of over-fishing. Damage to nests resulting from guano mining, tourism, and direct egg collection threatens this species’ ability to recover. Finally, oil spills are particularly dangerous for jackass penguins and other seabirds. Like all birds, these penguins must breathe air and if they surface in an oil slick, they are very likely to die. Each of these threats is a major concern for jackass penguin populations. When they are all combined, the species is placed at risk of extinction. Fortunately, this species is afforded some or complete legal protection throughout its range. Unfortunately, those efforts rarely extend to human activities that incidentally threaten individual birds (like oil spills, over-fishing, etc.). Continuing scientific research and conservation efforts are both vital to ensure that decreasing population trends are reversed.