The National Zoological Garden in Pretoria is notching up impressive wins in its mission to breed animal species that face an uncertain future in the wild and is helping to secure the continuance of animals under threat of extinction.
The zoo’s well-established Adopt a Wild Child programme gives people an opportunity to “adopt” and sponsor Pretoria Zoo animals, including the zoo’s captive-bred baby animals. This gives individuals, families, groups, organisations and businesses an opportunity to invest in the future of these animals and to help ensure their survival.
Earlier this year, the zoo celebrated the extremely rare birth in captivity of four vulnerable sungazer lizards. This brought to five the total number of sungazers bred there. The lizards are endemic to Free State and Mpumalanga grasslands. Habitat destruction and poaching are the species’ biggest threats, and the lizards survive only in relatively small pockets of protected areas in the wild. Sungazers, along with many other species of bird, reptile, amphibian, and mammal are up for adoption in the Adopt a Wild Child programme.
Captive breeding and conservation are not limited to endemic or indigenous South African species. Zoos around the world collaborate on breeding programmes to ensure genetic diversity is maintained in the offspring of captive animals, and our national zoo is a frequent, and highly regarded, participant in captive breeding programmes.
Very recently the zoo secured a male buff-cheeked gibbon from the Zoo du Bassin D’Arcachon in La Teste-de-Buch in France. The gibbon, named Sylvester, has been introduced to a female buff-cheeked gibbon and hopes are high that the pitter-patter of tiny buff-cheeked gibbon paws will be heard soon.
Last month, the Pretoria Zoo received the highly prestigious Pan-African Association of Zoos and Aquaria Conservation Award for its successful African pancake tortoise breeding programme. This is a species of flat-shelled tortoise native to Tanzania and Kenya. In due course, the Pretoria Zoo will exchange some of these hatchlings with international zoos to maintain the genetic viability of the global captive pancake tortoise population.
Conservation officer Chadané Pretorius and conservation worker Kabelo Segodi are the reptile specialists behind this successful breeding programme. The most recent batch of hatchlings, brought into the world thanks to the dedication and expertise of Kabelo and Chadané, added four more pancake tortoises to the zoo’s reptile park.
“Many people misunderstand the role of zoological gardens in conserving and breeding species,” says Nontsikelelo Mpulo, SANBI director of marketing, communication and commercialisation.
“Zoos around the world are professional homes to skilled, dedicated conservation specialists, biologists and ecologists who work tirelessly and with passion to save species. Captive breeding is a demanding undertaking. Natural habitats must be replicated as closely as possible if breeding attempts are to succeed, and each success moves the species in question that little bit further away from extinction.
“These animals are ambassadors for their species, and the biologists and zoologists working with them are species survival champions. Every successful captive breeding programme at the national zoo gives us and the global conservation community significant cause to celebrate.”
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