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June 2010 
Inside this issue ...
Holiday courses!
Culture comes to the vultures
Urban biodiversity?
Dr Emily Lane wins award
Director's comment
New arrival at Emerald Animal World
Stringent measures protect King penguins
NZG staff master penguin conservation skills
Maintaining an inland marine aquarium can be challenging!
First genetic assessment of pangolins in SA
Outbreak of deadly primate disease controlled
NZG hosts wildlife medicine courses for vets
ZooClub members investigate SA's biomes
Conservation Grapevine
World governments fail to halt biodiversity loss
Lions targeted for Chinese 'medicines'

Conservation Grapevine

SOUTH AFRICA - In March this year, for the very first time, the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (NZG) participated in SciFest Africa, the well-known science festival in Grahamstown.

This fun-filled annual event, which attracted some 79 000 visitors, is specially styled to make science, technology, engineering and mathematics accessible to and of interest to every-day people.

The NZG's exhibit attracted many visitors. The live snakes that formed part of the exhibit were either met with interest or fear.

SOUTH AFRICA - A baby pygmy hippo was born at the NZG's Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre on 28 May 2010. With a dad known as "Bovril" and a mom as "Marmite", it seemed only natural to name the youngster "Oxo".

The pygmy hippopotamus is native to the forests and swamps of western Africa. Behaviours such as mating and giving birth may occur in water or on land. This rare nocturnal forest animal has given rise to several local folktales.

The World Conservation Union estimates that there are fewer than 3,000 pygmy hippos remaining in the wild.

SOUTH AFRICA - Conservationists flew the first five of 32 critically endangered East African black rhinos (Diceros bicornis michaeli) from South Africa back to their habitat in Tanzania's Serengeti park on Friday, 21 May 2010. The rhinos had been bred from a group that was rescued from the Serengeti in the 1960s and relocated to South Africa to prevent the total extinction of their sub-species at the hands of poachers.

Rampant poaching in the 1960s and 70s saw the population of East African black rhinos in Tanzania plummet from over 1 000 to just 70. Seven were relocated to South Africa in the early 60s. The 32 being reintroduced to Tanzania are part of a 50-strong herd bred from the original seven.

The relocation was part of a new drive by African governments to protect the "big five" mammals - lions, rhinos, elephants, leopard and buffalo - that make up one of the continent's main tourist attractions. (Source: Reuters)

SOUTH AFRICA - South Africa is setting up a special unit to fight the growing scourge of rhino poaching, which is being fuelled, at least in part, by a new belief in Vietnam that rhino horn can cure cancer.

The Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, announced the creation of the National Wildlife Reaction Unit, saying poachers had put "tremendous pressure" on the country's rhino population over the past two years.

A Deputy Director-General in her department, Fundisile Mketeni, said the poaching "mafia" had spread throughout the country, striking recently in North West and the Eastern Cape. He said 220 rhinos were killed last year and 55 had been slaughtered so far this year. (Source: Sunday Times)

RWANDA - Four mountain gorillas found dead in Rwanda's Karisimbi area probably died of extreme cold, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) has announced.

The gorillas, a female and three infants, were discovered during routine monitoring by the RDB trackers between May 16th and 17th 2010. Post-mortems are now being carried out to confirm what killed the apes, all of which were known to rangers and were named last year, but it is suspected that the cause of death is attributed to the extreme cold experienced in May.

Of an approximately 380-400 gorillas living in the Virunga massif ranging between Rwanda, DRC and Uganda, Rwanda is home to at least 265 which are regularly monitored. (Source: Reuters)

BOTSWANA - Botswana may be famous worldwide as a big game country, with the highest number of elephants in Africa, but a report produced by Botswana's National Vision 2016 Council has revealed its population of over 11 wildlife species has been dwindling by as much as 90 percent in a 10-year period between 1994 and 2004.

The report says that the population of certain wildlife species has declined by up to 90 per cent and more. For at least five of these species - duiker, reedbuck, sitatunga, tsessebe and warthog - the downward trend is alarming, with the population of each having dropped by more than 75% over the 10-year period. The report advises that ongoing monitoring of population trends will be critical as part of Botswana's wildlife management strategy. (Source: www.africanconservation.org)

KENYA - According to an IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) report, Governments have made "positive moves" towards coming up with a plan to reduce the current loss of biodiversity, which is threatening the future of our planet.

In May 2010, delegates at a meeting in Nairobi discussed the scientific and technical aspects behind a new "big plan" to save all life on earth, the planet's biodiversity. Scientists from IUCN, who have been taking part in the discussions, say that they're encouraged by the commitment shown by governments to develop a new Strategic Plan for the next ten years, which would set targets to reduce the global rate of biodiversity loss.

AFRICA - Protected areas, long thought of as safe refuges for animals and plants, are under increasing threats from invasive species which not only affect biodiversity but also people's livelihoods.

According to the Global Invasive Species Programme, many managers of protected areas in Africa are not aware of the severity of the problem which is on their doorsteps nor how to address it.

A negligible amount of the funding spent on biodiversity conservation projects each year is devoted to invasive species, even though they are the second biggest threat to biodiversity globally, and in some ecosystems, the biggest single threat to biodiversity.

Invasive species include the Giant Mimosa (Mimosa pigra), which is a spiny shrub, originally alien to Africa, that established on the Kafue Floodplain in a national park in Zambia in the early 1980s and has since spread to cover 3 000 hectares of prime floodplain habitat, pushing out many large and important aquatic antelopes, waterbirds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, invertebrates and plants from their natural habitat.

CAMBRIDGE, UK - According to a new study published in the journal Biodiversity and Conservation, more than 63 000 poison arrow frogs of 32 species were traded internationally between 2004 and 2008. Around a fifth were destined for markets in Asia where keeping exotic pets is becoming increasingly popular.

Poison arrow frog species are native to South and Central America. Many poison arrow frogs are brightly coloured to act as a warning to predators, which has led to them becoming popular as exotic pets in Europe and North America, and increasingly in Asia. They are so called because of their toxic skin secretions, used by indigenous people in South America as poison on the tips of blow-darts.

The popularity of poison arrow frogs as pets has led to some species being over-harvested in the wild, putting them at risk. Five of the species reported in trade are regarded by IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) as at risk of global extinction. They include the Golden Poison Frog (Phyllobates terribilis), an endangered species known only from tiny areas on the Pacific coast of Colombia.

CHINA - A Chinese farmer who was found guilty of doctoring photos of an endangered tiger and collecting a cash reward from wildlife authorities has been put in jail after failing to report to parole officers.

The photos by Zhou Zhenglong, a 54-year-old farmer from mountainous Zhenping county in northern Shaanxi province, raised hopes that the South China tiger might still exist in the region.

Local officials used the photos to promote tourism and a wildlife reserve, and rewarded him with 20,000 yuan ($2,930) before the fraud was exposed by local media and Internet experts. Authorities have admitted the pictures were fake after months of stalling, and sacked a number of officials for their part in the scandal. An investigation by China's State Forestry Administration has excluded the possibility of tigers in Zhenping. (Source: Reuters)