The Amazon in the heart of Joburg

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Copy of Copy of ST sec ZOO804.JPG INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Yello Anaconda at the Joburg Zoo where animals of the Amazon exhibit is housing animal species found in the forests of the Amazon. Picture: Matthews Baloyi

Johannesburg - It’s not for the faint-hearted!

If you don’t like creepy crawlies, reptiles, very big snakes, hairy tarantulas, frogs and bats, stay away from the newly opened Animals of the Amazon exhibition centre at Johannesburg Zoo.

The collection, which was officially opened on Thursday, is being housed in a specially built R30-million Mayan temple-styled building complete with fake fires, huge copper pots and darkened tunnels.

Visitors can now wander down the darkened tunnels in the “temple” and live in hope that the cages are secure, or they might step onto something slimy or hairy.

The exhibition boasts, among others, exhibits of gigantic yellow anacondas, Amazon tree boa constrictors, Honduras milk snakes, curly-haired tarantulas, green iguanas, moustached emperor tamarin monkeys and poison dart frogs.

It also has an aquarium, which has many red-data species.

Copy of Copy of STsec  ZOO003.JPG Temple of the Ancients at the Joburg Zoo where animals of the Amazon exhibit is housing animal species found in the forests of the Amazon. Picture: Matthews Baloyi INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

It is even home to a “Jesus Christ” lizard, which has the ability to run on water.

Plans for this section of the zoo started as far back as 2005, and took many years, and challenges, to complete, said Reggie Mokalapa, Johannesburg City Parks and zoo general manager of capital infrastructure development.

“It took a lot of hard work and lots and lots of research. The most challenging part was the building of the inside tunnels, which no one could do locally, and which we had to source from Japan. But we are pleased with the results. We have a magnificent building,” he said.

This is the sixth themed section of the zoo to be developed.

The others are: Animals of Africa; The Heart of Africa; Southern Safari; Extreme Environments, which showcases animals living in extreme temperatures; the Farm Yard; and the Spice Route.

“We are trying to make the zoo as interactive and modern as possible, not just animals in cages or behind glass windows,” Mokalapa said.

Copy of Copy of ST secZOO992.JPG An African Leopard at the Joburg Zoo where animals of the Amazon exhibit is housing animal species found in the forests of the Amazon. Picture: Matthews Baloyi INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS

Tshepang Makganye, City Parks general manager of conservation management, said many of the animals had been sourced through agencies which specialise in this type of work.

“There are many rules and regulations around a project of this nature, so we worked with specialists. Some of the animals were imported, some were donated by members of the public and we got some from the national zoo,” he said.

So far, R400 000 had been spent on acquiring the exotic creatures, but it was an ongoing project and another R600 000 was to be spent within the next few months on adding to the collection. The next lot would arrive at the zoo in June, he said.

The new section was officially opened by City of Joburg member of the mayoral committee responsible for community development, Chris Zondo.

“This new exhibit is another initiative which positions Joburg as a leading city in the world. This is Jozi at work. It is a project that will benefit residents of the city. It is a showpiece of endangered animals. It will afford underprivileged children the opportunity to experience these animals,” he said.

Professor John Ledger, director of the Endangered Wildlife Trust, said 90 percent of the animals in the Amazon are insects and spiders.

He said a trip to the Amazon would cost between R32 000 and R52 000.

“It is therefore cheaper to visit the zoo. This is just another jewel in the crown of our golden city,” he said. - The Star

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