Conservation Biology

Thursday, March 01, 2007


I visited KNP on the first and second of February 2007. I was with my group (Ecological informatics learnership students Pretoria CSIR), Nicklaus Kruger from University of the Western Cape (UWC), Laurie Barwell from Pretoria CSIR and Avinash, from
South African Environmental Network (SAEON).The main objective of the trip was to observe different type of animals found in KNP.

The KNP is the biggest game reserves in Africa, covering an area of 18,989 km² extending 350 km north to south and 60 km east to west (1). The KNP lies in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces; the Northernmost part of KNP is Zimbabwe and Mozambique on the East (1). The KNP is famous as African big five animals. The big five includes elephant, rhino, hippopotamus, leopard and buffalo (3).

The elephant belongs to the family of pachyderm under the order Proboscidea and class Mammalia. Elephants can live approximately 70 years. Elephants can reach the weight of above 7 tons

There are many elephants found in KNP. Elephants destroy vegetation in the Kruger National Park (KNP). Elephant need a lot of food - they can consume 200 kg of plant matter per day. Elephants exploit trees and shrubs of the park as they uprooted trees using its trunk Which lead to decrease in the number of trees. Elephants strip off the bark of the trees which result in the death of the trees because trees can not transport water and other nutrients to the leaves and stems. Elephants can change the tropical forest to be savannah forest. Elephants browse when grass production is low during dry seasons. As a result the elephant destroy biodiversity of KNP as they consumed large amount of plants (2).

I was told that, Elephants grow faster. Currently they lead to changes to vegetation of the park. I thought when the space is small for Elephants in KNP; elephant will become dangerous to other animals and tourist by attacking them. “I believe that”, after 10 years KNP will be unable to accommodate all the elephants found in the park.

Dr. Holger Eckhardt from KNP indicated that, Marula trees are rare because of elephants. Elephants are big and can disable electric fences, as they can break the boundary fence of the park and this will allows other big animals like buffalos to leave the park

An elephant specialist of KNP, Dr. Ian Whyte, told us that, there is no one who wants to kill elephants but they have the responsibility to balance the ecosystem.The management of KNP said that, their obligation is to manage and conserve biodiversity of KNP. They said that they will use elephant culling methods to minimize the number of elephant as they have conservation management that deal with it.

The department of Environmental affairs and tourism needs to balance the ecosystem and protect the park. There is also a need for the management to manage and protect the tourist industry and the community who live near the park. When we talk about conservation we need to focus on balance between plants and animals. 6The methods of selling elephants to other countries can work rather than killing them. The KNP face the problem of elephant if they do not come with the strong mitigation startegies to control elephant

1. Anonymous. 2007. Kruger National Park. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 7]. Available from:

2. Anonymous. 2007. A Numbers Game: Managing Elephants in Southern Africa. [Online]. [Cited, 23 February 2007]. Availab;e from:

3. Husted. L. 2006. Elephant cull threatens tourism in Kruger[Online]. [Cited, 22 February 2007]. Available from:

Linette Netshiheni
Tell: 012 841 2133
Fax: 012 842 3676


I never knew that there was a Joey (baby koala) which was born in Africa until I visited Pretoria Zoo in Gauteng Province. The koala (Phascolarctos cinereus) which is found in Pretoria Zoo is the only koala which was born in Africa. The breeding program of Phascolarctos cinereus population was implemented in November 2005 by the National Zoological Garden of South Africa (1). The koala was born on the 4th of January 2006 (2). It took twenty to thirty days for a baby koala to be born (3). The koala babies weighed about 5g at birth. The koala was named Willie after the former Director of the Zoo Wille Labuschagne (1).

On first glance, it appears that Phascolarctos cinereus is closely related to a bear because it looks like a teddy bear, hence it is sometimes called koala bear. Koala is closely related with kangaroo and opossum (3). Koala is also distant cousin of wombats (4). Actually, koalas are related to bears, just more distantly than they are to kangaroos and wombats.

Willie the koala stayed in its mother’s pouch for approximately seven months and fed on milk of its mother (1). The pouch of Phascolarctos cinereus is distinctive comparing to other tree dwindling placental mammals; it opens at the rear (4). Phascolarctos cinereus begins to cling on the back of its mother at about six months until it is about twelve months old (4).

Phascolarctos cinereus feed and sleep on Eucalyptus leaves. The koala in Pretoria zoo consumes eight different types of Eucalyptus (1). Eucalyptus leaves have a high water content which quenches the koala’s thirst. Phascolarctos cinereus does not usually drink water; however, it drinks during drought season. Eucalyptus leaves are rich in fibre and poor in protein. They also contain little energy as a result; Phascolarctos cinereus conserves energy by sleeping during the day and moving very slowly (5). Phascolarctos cinereus that is found at Pretoria Zoo sleep about twenty hours (1). Phascolarctos cinereus is nocturnal species (4).

The recent studies show that there are fewer koalas in the wild comparing to the previous years in their home environment (Australia) (6). Humans are known to be the biggest threat to koalas. Koala habitats are fragmented due to urban development, roads and agriculture and results to changes population dynamics (7).

Since European settlement in the early 1800s (6), around 80% of eucalyptus forests (the natural habitat for koalas) have been destroyed (7). The bushfires and drought regularly occurs eucalypts forest of Australia and these increase strain to the population of Phascolarctos cinereus. More than 4000 koalas are killed annually by cars or dogs (7). Koalas were killed by cars when they are searching for new territories (6). Koalas were hunted in the late 1920s for their fur. More than two million koala skins were exported United States and Europe (6). Koala were about to go extinct in Australia due to being hunted. Koalas are preyed upon by wedge-tailed eagles, goannas dingoes and pythons. The koalas are also threatened by feral animals such as cats and foxes (7).

Koalas are protected by Endanger Species Act’s Protection law in their Australia (6). The law was effective on the 8th of June 2000 throughout Australia (8). The koalas were listed endangered because they were threatened in the Queensland. Koalas are no longer exploited for their fur (6).

Koalas of Australia are mostly conserved because they may go extinct. The area such as Pretoria Zoo is also playing an important in conservation of koala. Koalas were threatened in their home environment. Koalas are currently protected by law. At long last, koala is born in Africa.


1. Oelofse L. Pretoria zoo welcomes first born in Africa. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

2. Bulletin Biltong. 2006. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

3. The Endangered Koalas. [ Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

4. Lawsen S. Koala Bears. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

5. Koala. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

6. Nina B.2001. Koala Bear. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

7.Anonymous. Koala. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

8. Clark J.P. Rules and Regulations. [Online]. [Cited 2007 February 22] Available from:

Masiya Kedibone
CSIR Pretoria
NISL- Ecological Informatics

P.O. Box 395