The National Zoo is involved in a wide range of awareness and education programmes. One of the most important, and popular, of these programmes focuses on a bird that is feared by many cultures - the owl.
Learners are introduced to owls during the National Zoo's Owl Week.
A closer look at these silent nocturnal hunters.
Learning more about the threats to owls.
Omens of bad luck
In general, owls are viewed as omens of bad luck, ill health, or death. The belief is widespread even today. Among the Kikuyu of Kenya it was believed that owls were harbingers of death. If one saw an owl or heard its hoot, someone was going to die. The Swahili people of East Africa believe owls bring illness to children, while the Zulu people of South Africa know the owl as the witchdoctors' bird.
Unfounded superstitions such as these threaten the existence of these silent nocturnal hunters. The myths are enforced by horror films and Halloween decorations in which they are linked to haunting night themes and portrayed as symbols of magic and witchcraft or harbingers of death and destruction.
Even their physical appearance can be frightening to the uninformed - children are often afraid of their wide staring eyes and the tufts of feathers which give them the appearance of horned devils.
Learners study the physical characteristics of owls.
The highlight of the day - a visit by Hoot, one of the National Zoo's Spotted Eagle Owls.
The NZG dedicates a week each year to educating learners about owls and what good they do within the ecosystem in an attempt to convert these negative connotations into positive ones.
The annual Owl Week took place from 7 - 11 May this year. At the first of three display tables adjacent to the owl enclosures, learners were welcomed and introduced to owls. At the second table the youngsters could view pictures, owl pellets, touch owl feathers and see taxidermied owls up close. At the last table the myths, superstitions and traditional stories around owls were unravelled.
Learners were also made aware of threats to our owl populations. Education officers were on hand to show them different brands of rat poison and rat traps, explaining that rat traps were more environmentally friendly to use than poison.
At the end of the programme learners were treated to a visit by Hoot, one of the NZG's Spotted Eagle Owls.
Over 2 000 learners attended Owl Week. They went away with a mission to teach everyone around them that owls are not animals to be feared, and that one should be careful not to harm them, especially through the use of rat poison and when driving at night. Many learners showed a keen interest in the owl box on display and the possibility of installing owl boxes in their school or home gardens.
Claire Fordred, Intern, NZG
The National Zoological Gardens of
South Africa is a proud facility of
the National Research Foundation