NZG staff member George Kekana interacts with the public at the reptile display.
Red-billed oxpecker perched on a branch surveying the buffalo pictured on the backdrop of its enclosure.
Front view of the NZG stall at the show.
Young visitors use their mobile phones to take pictures of the Verreaux's eagle owl.
Dad inspects the snakes while Mom tells the kids more about the eagle owl.
Tent full of people viewing the different animals on display.
NZG display draws crowds at popular festival
The NZG's Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre was approached by the Euphorbia Christian Independent School from Mookgophong (Naboomspruit), the organisers of the annual Limpopo Windpomp Fees (Windmill Festival) to be part of their annual festival.
The NZG was given the prime spot at the main entrance and the organisers made sure that the stand was large enough to accommodate two tents. They even ensured that the music was set up at a distance and controlled to lessen the impact of loud noise on the animals.
A month prior to the festival staff members started to train the animals selected for the display - a Bush pig (Buphagus erythrorhynchus), Red-billed oxpeckers (Buphagus erythrorhynchus), Verreaux's eagle owl (Bubo lacteus), domestic rabbits and guinea pigs. The local Snake Rescue, who we assist with the removal of venomous reptiles, provided four reptiles for the display - an African rock python (Python sebae natalensis), Brown house snake (Lamprophis fuliginosus), Rinkhals (Hemachatus haemachatus) and Snouted cobra (Naja annulifera).
Training involved increasing the animals' exposure to people and noise. This process assisted greatly in ensuring that the animals did not suffer increased stress levels due to the high volume of people and noise. It was amazing to see how the animals merely carried on with their normal routine and activities amid all the hustle and bustle around them.
The enclosures and décor were designed to ensure the safety of the animals and to enable us to reuse the structures at future exhibitions. The backdrops were of such high quality that the Red-billed oxpecker attempted to groom the buffalo pictured on the backdrop of their enclosure, and the public had to look twice to notice the Verreaux's eagle owl.
Interacting with the public
The display resulted in numerous discussions and interactions with the public, and between parents and their children. We got to hear all kinds of family stories, from people who had been bitten by snakes to the capture and removal of snakes; from farmers who hated bush pigs because of damage to their crops to farmers who have come up with solutions to prevent crop damage.
The Verreaux's eagle owl proved to be a great hit with all, and was photographed extensively by the mobile phone brigade. When the children saw the rabbits and guinea pigs, mom and dad had to explain why they could not have them as pets at their homes.
Although it is difficult to evaluate the impact of the NZG's participation in the festival, the stall attracted some 16 000 visitors. The organisers received positive feedback about our display and have already asked us to participate again next year.
We would like to thank the NZG's Marketing and Research departments, the service providers for the enclosures and printed material and above all the staff of Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre who made this such a pleasant and worthwhile experience for all involved.
The festival was established in 2008 to support the community and has grown from strength to strength. Each year the organisers take on a new challenge to set some new world record and with the support of their loyal sponsors they continue to succeed.
The event is aimed at raising funds for the Naboomspruit Old Age Home, Magrietjie Cancer Support Group, Sunrise School (for children with special needs) and the Abraham Kriel Children's Home.
By Mark Howitt, Head: Mokopane Biodiversity Conservation Centre, Animal Collection and Conservation, NZG
The National Zoological Gardens of
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