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May 2013
Contents / home
Disease research in cheetahs
Top awards for NZG research
Ragged-tooth shark released
Holiday fun at the zoo
Knysna seahorse pampering
Emma the lioness
11th ICEE comes to Africa
Exhibit draws large crowds
Scifest Africa 2013
A kiss from a seal
Farm programme fascinates
Rhino poaching update
Conservation Grapevine

Conservation grapevine

PRETORIA - The NZG's Common hippopotamus calf that was born in February this year, is in excellent health and, along with its doting mother, joined the main hippo pool in April.

Since its birth, the little one has been in a separate enclosure adjacent to the main hippo pools with its mother, Gertrude, aged 34. The reason for this initial separation is to allow for the calf to adequately bond with its mother and to be kept safe. The gender of the youngster is yet to be determined.

SRI LANKA - A new type of tarantula about the size of your face has been found in northern Sri Lanka. Scientists found the spiders - with a leg span up to 8 inches (20,3 cm) across - living in trees and the old doctor's quarters of a hospital in Mankulam.

Covered in beautiful, ornate markings, the spiders belong to the genus Poecilotheria. These are the tiger spiders, an arboreal group indigenous to India and Sri Lanka that are known for being colorful, fast, and venomous. As a group, the spiders are related to a class of South American tarantula that includes the Goliath bird-eater, the world's largest.

The new spider, named Poecilotheria rajaei after a local police inspector who helped the team navigate post-civil war northern Sri Lanka, differs from similar species primarily in the markings on its legs and underside, which bears a pink abdominal band.

The spider's unique leg markings include geometric patterns with daffodil-yellow and grey inlays on the first and fourth legs. Source: Independent Online

AUSTRALIA - Blue whales are the biggest creatures known to have lived on Earth since its creation 4.54 billion years ago - and they are possibly also the loudest. Now, a team of Australian researchers has used the vocal ability of this iconic, but highly endangered, whale species to track its movements deep in the Southern Ocean and up to Antarctica's icy edge using acoustic technology to follow their songs. Their fascinating results have proved conclusively that it is not necessary to kill whales to learn about them.

Historically, there were hundreds of thousands of blue whales. These magnificent leviathans can reach 33m in length and weigh up to 190 tons, consuming as much as four tons of shrimp-like krill in a single day. In contrast, the largest-known dinosaur, Argentinosaurus of the Mesozoic Era, was estimated to have reached "only" 90 tons.

Blue whales were largely spared the ravages of early whaling because the whalers in their open rowing boats, and using hand-held harpoons, were simply unable to deal with the blues' massive size and incredible swimming speed. Cruising the ocean at more than 8km/h, they can reportedly reach 32km/h when threatened.

But the writing was on the wall when Norwegian Svend Foyn perfected the exploding harpoon gun in 1868, and steam-driven whalers operating in tandem with factory ships started hunting in all the oceans of the world. Source: Cape Argus

LONDON - Scientists have shown that the North American monarch butterfly's amazing migration, travelling thousands of miles each year from its wintering grounds in Mexico to as far north as the Great Lakes of Canada and back, is achieved with just an in-built "compass" - based on the position of the sun - which tells the insect which direction it should fly at the appropriate time of the year.

Researchers have long speculated on how the insect, which weighs about half a gram, is able to make the return journey to the mountain forests of Mexico for winter, especially as those born in late summer would not have made the journey before.

Experts thought they used an internal, genetically encoded "map" to locate their position, as well as a built-in compass to tell them where to fly. But now a study has shown that the butterflies manage with just a compass alone.

"To be a true navigator, you need both a compass and a map. We've known for some time that monarchs use external cues, such as the sun and magnetic field, as a built-in compass that can indicate their latitude. But having an internal map requires knowledge of both latitude and longitude," said butterfly expert Professor Ryan Norris of the University of Guelph in Ontario.

It is likely the butterflies also use landmarks, such as mountain ranges, to help them find their way, and possibly scent when they are near to their final goal, the oyamel trees of the Mexican highlands where they clump together in their thousands to spend the winter season. Source: The Independent

ZAMBIA - In 2002, researcher Paul Van Daele of the University of Ghent and his team noticed a distinct-looking mole rat in Zambia. It took several years to confirm their hypothesis that they had uncovered a new species, but a recent study by Van Daele and his team in Zootaxa describes the world's newest mole rat: Caroline's mole rat (Fukomys vandewoestijneae), distinguished by a distinct skull shape and confirmed by DNA and chromosome tests.

The new mole rat was found in the Ikelenge pedicle, a geographic area that covers portions of Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Angola. Although little research has been conducted in the Ikelenge pedicle, scientists believe it is a hotspot for endemic species. Already scientists have discovered 28 endemic species: one amphibian, five mammals, three butterflies and 19 dragonflies. This unique region is made up of gallery forests along rivers and wetlands and woodlands dominated by miombo trees, where the new mole rat was discovered. But, like most forests in the world, these are imperiled.

Caroline's mole rat likely faces additional threats from pest control and hunting as mole rats are commonly targeted by hunters, providing an important protein source to local populations.

Van Daele named the new species after his late wife, Caroline Van De Woestijne, who helped discover it. Source:

USA - Forget all the adorable images of cats. Scientists have identified a shocking new truth: cats are far deadlier than anyone realised.

Researchers from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute estimated that domestic cats in the United States - both the household pets that only spend part of the day outdoors and feral cats that never leave it - kill about 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small mammals a year, most of them native animals like shrews, chipmunks and voles rather than introduced pests like the Norwegian rat.

The estimated kill rates are twice to four times higher than mortality figures previously bandied about, and position the domestic cat as one of the single greatest human-linked threats to wildlife in the USA. More birds and animals die in the mouths of cats, the report said, than from automobile strikes, pesticides and poisons, collisions with skyscrapers and windmills and other so-called anthropogenic causes. Source: Environment, People and Conservation in Africa

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