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As the world's population continues to increase and wildlife and their habitats disappear, more and more people live in urban centres disconnected from the natural environment. In fact, more than 50% of the world's population currently resides in cities and this will increase to 70% by 2030. For millions of these people, zoos provide the only way to regularly see and connect with the other living creatures that share our planet.

Zoos have moved away from their old ‘stamp collection mentality' where one or two of as many species as possible were displayed to satisfy the curiosity of and provide entertainment for the visiting public. These days reputable zoos are respected scientific institutions that work cooperatively towards attaining serious conservation goals. We are guided in our actions by the ‘World Zoo and Aquarium Conservation Strategy” published in 2005 by the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA) of which Johannesburg Zoo is a member. Zoos strive to integrate all aspects of their work with conservation activities and promote fundamental values of sustainability and social and environmental responsibility. Our core business at the Johannesburg Zoo is the preservation and management of biodiversity through direct conservation action, education, research and recreation.

We carefully plan our animal collection to ensure that each species has a defined role of conservation or educational significance, and we maintain the highest standards of care to ensure their physiological and psychological well being. Zoos work together at both national and international levels to maintain self-sustaining, viable populations of animals for conservation purposes and to illustrate important conservation issues. Increasingly zoo exhibits are linked to conservation efforts in the wild and many zoos are directly involved in field conservation and research projects. Zoos employ professional and highly skilled staff with expertise in areas such as population biology and small population management, wildlife and conservation medicine, assisted reproduction and animal behaviour. Increasingly these skills are needed to conserve wild populations. Zoos keep captive populations of endangered species to act as genetic reservoirs or assurance populations and for potential reintroduction to the wild should that become necessary. In 2009, zoos ran studbooks or cooperative breeding programs for more than 650 different taxa (groups of animals). In addition zoos annually generate millions of dollars for direct funding of conservation projects and protection of habitats in the wild.

Worldwide 700 million people a year visit zoos, which provides a huge educational potential. Zoos therefore play a vital role in educating our visitors about biodiversity, the need to take urgent conservation action.and to manage our natural resources sustainably. By providing a safe and fun educational environment, we are able to engage our visitors and encourage them to take action. At the Johannesburg Zoo, we place particular importance on education of the thousands of children that visit us annually.

Here at the Johannesburg Zoo our flagship conservation program is the Wattled Crane Recovery Programme (WCRP) which was formed in 2000, when concern over the decline of the Wattled Crane in South Africa, and its potential genetic uniqueness, led to a Population and Habitat Viability Assessment workshop. Following the recommendations made at this workshop, the WCRP has two main objectives. Firstly the maintenance of a captive breeding flock to serve as a genetic reservoir in the case of catastrophic extinction of the species in the wild and secondly supplementation of the wild population through the release of captive-reared fledglings into existing wild populations. See www.wattledcrane.co.za

The worldwide decline in amphibians was the catalyst for the establishment of our Amphibian Conservation Program. This project involves keeping four species of south african amphibians; painted reed frogs, guttoral toads, bushveld rain frogs and ghost frogs and using them as analogue species for similar but much more endangered species. By learning how to keep and breed the more common species successfully, we will be prepared for keeping assurance colonies of the endangered species in the future.
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