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December 2009 
Inside this issue ...
A postcard from the Zoo
2010 - International Year of Biodiversity
Christmas High Tea and Lunch @ the Zoo
Holiday courses!
A legacy for future generations
Partnership results in lion enclosure at Rietvlei Nature Reserve
In-situ conservation project protects Giant Bullfrog breeding site
Project Frozen Dumbo
NZG research to boost conservation of endangered Ground Hornbill
NZG boasts four qualified Class IV divers
Conservation Grapevine
The first rainbow

Conservation Grapevine

Did you know…? Have you heard... ?

SOUTH AFRICA - The National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) recently released 15 endangered Knysna seahorses into a display at the Zoo's Aquarium.

These seahorses are only found in South Africa and are unusual because they only occur in estuaries. They have the most limited distribution range of all seahorse species and has been listed as the most endangered seahorse in the world.

This small, delicate creature is a mottled brown colour, with a relatively short snout. Its neck arches in a smooth curve without a characteristic "crown" on its head.

The Knysna seahorse is threatened by exploitation for the pet trade and habitat destruction. However, this seahorse is protected in South Africa and may only be collected from their natural habitat with the necessary permits.

SOUTH AFRICA - Four upside down jellyfish now call the NZG home! The four invertebrates were received from uShaka Marine World in Durban as a donation.

Jellyfish have always been considered enigmatic creatures and in many cases, very little is known about them. Some are extremely venomous, like the box jellyfish which is considered to be the most venomous creature on the planet. Its venom is enough to kill 60 humans in as little as three-minutes from just one of its multiple tentacles!

Upside down jellyfish, however, are harmless and exceptionally beautiful, resembling a plant rather than a jellyfish (the "umbrella" part of their bodies is not visible). This creature has a unique method of feeding - in the tentacle region there are layers of skin called zooanthalle which causes these jellyfish to be photosynthetic. This allows them to make their own food from light energy!

Why not pay a visit to the NZG Aquarium to view the latest arrivals?

SOUTH AFRICA - The NZG and its Reptile Park are again the proud custodians of two magnificent Komodo dragons. The previous female was sent on breeding loan to the Zoological Society of London.

Komodo dragons, the world's largest reptile, now also sport the bragging rights of being the largest venomous animal on the planet. A newspaper article published in mainstream press in May 2009 states that Australian researchers have established that Komodo dragons are the most venomous creatures on earth and that they indeed have venom glands in their killer jaws. It was previously believed that the lizards used their bacteria-laden teeth to kill their prey through blood poisoning.

Komodo dragons have been declared a national treasure by the Indonesian government. Patrolled reserves have been established to keep the remaining wild Komodo dragons safe from human destruction.

SOUTH AFRICA - In cooperation with the City of Tshwane, the NZG planted 301 indigenous trees in commemoration of Arbour Day. The trees were donated to the National Zoo by horticulturalists Malanseuns through the City of Tshwane in a bid to decrease the city's carbon footprint on the environment.

During a special tree planting ceremony, NZG Managing Director Dr Clifford Nxomani planted South Africa's tree of the year - the Monkey thorn (Acacia galphinii).

Information on the Monkey thorn tree:

  • This is the largest of the South African Acacia species, growing up to 30 metres in height.
  • It is common along rivers and streams in savannah and occurs in Zimbabwe, eastern Botswana, North West Province and the northern parts of South Africa.
  • The Afrikaans common name (Apiesdoring) is said to refer to the habit of monkeys taking refuge in the trees and possibly also because they eat the tree's seed pods. One of the seTswana names for A. galpinii is "mongangatau", which means "the one that catches like a lion", referring to the tendency of the thorns to catch onto clothing and skin.

Copenhagen, Denmark, 14 December, 2009 (IUCN) - The Arctic Fox, Leatherback Turtle and Koala are among the species destined to be hardest hit by climate change, according to a new IUCN review.

The report, Species and Climate Change, focuses on 10 species, including the Beluga Whale, Clownfish, Emperor Penguin, Quiver Tree, Ringed Seal, salmon and staghorn corals, which all highlight the way climate change is adversely affecting marine, terrestrial and freshwater habitats.

Polar species are being affected by loss of ice due to global warming, according to the report. The Emperor Penguin, highly adapted to unforgiving Antarctic conditions, faces a similar problem. Regional sea ice, which it needs for mating, chick-rearing and moulting, is declining. Reduced ice cover also means less krill, affecting food availability for the Emperor Penguin and many other Antarctic species.

The Arctic tundra on which the Arctic Fox depends is disappearing as warming temperatures allow new plant species to flourish. As the habitat changes from tundra to forest, the Red Fox, which preys on the Arctic Fox and competes with it for food, is able to move further north, reducing the Arctic Fox's territory.

The impacts of climate change are not confined to polar regions. In more tropical areas, staghorn corals, which include some 160 species, are severely affected by rising ocean temperatures, which causes coral bleaching. Ocean acidification, the result of too much CO2 in the oceans, weakens the corals' skeletons.

Clownfish, of "Finding Nemo" fame, are also victims of ocean acidification. Acidic water disrupts their sense of smell, impairing their ability to find their specific host anemone, which they rely on for protection. Salmon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the commercial fishing industry, are threatened by increases in water temperature, which reduces water's oxygen levels, increases their susceptibility to disease and disrupts their breeding efforts.

Australia's iconic Koala faces malnutrition and ultimate starvation as the nutritional quality of Eucalyptus leaves declines as CO2 levels increase. The Leatherback Turtle, another iconic species, is being affected by rising sea levels and increased storm activity due to climate change which destroys its nesting habitats. Temperature increases may lead to a reduction in the proportion of males relative to females.

An increase in CO2 levels does not just affect animals however; it also impacts on the world's plants. The Quiver Tree, found in the Namib Desert region of southern Africa, is losing populations in the equator-ward parts of their distribution range due to drought stress. They highlight the problems that all plants and slow-moving species face in keeping up with rapidly accelerating changing climate.

Download the full report