World Wetlands Day and Leap Day for Frogs: The 2nd of February was World Wetlands Day. The Endangered Wildlife Trust’s (EWT) fourth annual Leap Day for Frogs, a national day of awareness and celebration of frogs, will occur on the 27th of February. Amphibians are among the most endangered species on earth, with 43% of the species populations declining globally. Around 120 species of frogs call South Africa home, of which many are endangered. South Africa’s smallest frog is also one of its most threatened. The appropriately named Micro Frog, which will only grow to a maximum length of 18 mm, is critically endangered, and our largest species, the Giant Bullfrog, which reaches 25 cm and weighs in at 1.4 kg, has already lost up to 80% of its habitat, particularly in urban areas of Gauteng. Visit www.leapdayforfrogs.org.za for more froggy facts. You don’t have to be a scientist to save frogs! Leap Day for Frogs is an opportunity to increase awareness around the importance of frogs, and to remove the negative stigma and superstitions that have unfortunately surrounded these fascinating creatures for many decades. Dr Jeanne Tarrant, Manager of the EWT’s Threatened Amphibian Programme highlights the importance of this initiative. "Understanding why many South Africans fear or dislike frogs is essential to changing the attitudes towards these animals, and ultimately protecting them. There is a genuine growing interest in ‘frogging’ and Leap Day for Frogs also encourages learning more about, and celebrating, the amazing diversity of frogs in South Africa, especially amongst our youth". Frogs are crucial in our ecosystems through their role as both predator and prey. They are also important bio-indicators of the health of the environment, and the fact that almost half of all species are declining should be a clear warning that our global ecosystem is under strain (email received on 3 February 2016).
Urban carnivores: South Africa’s urbanites are getting used to baboons and monkeys, attracted by food, in their backyards. Predators, too, are getting closer. In September 2013, a young brown hyena had to be captured in Blairgowrie, Johannesburg. A small pack of them is reported to live in the green belt spanning the west of the city. A wide variety of carnivores appears to be surviving – despite a lack of conservation efforts – on the fringe (within 20km) of one of the largest human populations in SA, according to Dr Brian Kuhn of the Paleosciences Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand. Brown hyenas, black-backed jackals, servals, caracals, mongooses, honey badgers and a leopard have been spotted in and around the Cradle of Humankind (Roelof Bezuidenhout, Farmer’s Weekly, 3 October 2014).
Indigenous veld goat types: Indigenous goats arrived in South Africa with migrating tribes and are found in the specific areas where the different ethnic groups settled. The general appearance of these goats tends to support theories that they originated in different ecosystems. The Boer Goat is famous throughout the world as a hardy meat goat, with a high resistance to disease and an ability to adapt well to hot, dry, semi desert conditions. However, this breed is the result of selective breeding which drew on a variety of goats found locally, particularly in the Eastern Cape. There are four distinct eco types of indigenous goat (excluding the Boer Goat):
Nguni type goats (Mbuzi) – multi-coloured with semi pendulous ears
Eastern Cape Xhosa – multi-coloured with lob ears
Northern Cape, Lob Eared, Speckled (Skilder) Goats
Q Kunene Type (Kaokoland) – multi-coloured with lob ears
(For more information: 083 383 2737 or 051 445 2010 or go to www.indigenousveldgoats.co.za).
When the veld turns toxic: One of the greatest risks to livestock in South Africa is plant toxicity. Toxic plants are usually the first green plants to sprout after a dry season or a veld fire. A number of these are at their most toxic in the young stage when they are most attractive to livestock. Similarly, some are highly resistant to drought and may be the only green plants available during drought.
What to look out for: Toxic plants are often found as weeds in harvested lands and along the roadside (areas frequently used for grazing in times of scarcity). Certain poisonings occur after a sudden change in the weather, usually after an unseasonable frost or when wet, cool conditions are suddenly followed by a warm, dry spell. Wind or hail can knock poisonous acorns or pods to the ground, making them available to animals. Fodder such as hay, silage, stover or concentrates may contain toxic plants, fungi or chemicals.
Plants to watch out for: About 600 indigenous toxic plant species occur in South Africa. Different parts of these (e.g. leaves or seeds) may be poisonous. For cattle, the most common poisonous plants include those producing cardiac glycosides (tulp and slangkop, e.g. gifblaar (Dichapetalum cymosum); Fadogia homblei (causing gousiekte); and Lantana. Dangerous plants for sheep and goats include plants causing geeldikkop, Vermeersiekte, gousiekte and diplodiosis; sceneciosis; and plants producing cardiac glycosides.
(Source: ‘Poisonous plants’, Animal Health for Developing Farmers Programme, ARC-Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute).