South Africa

Black-footed penguins and Shoebill storks greet visitors year round in the outdoor South Africa exhibit. During the summer months this lush botanical area is also home to unusual reptiles and amphibians from Madagascar.

Tomato frog

Tomato frog, Dyscophus antongilii

As with many other brightly-colored amphibians, the color of this frog indicates it can secrete an unpleasant substance when seized, in this case a thick, mildly toxic mucous. Found in a variety of habitats all over Madagascar, it has been a popular zoo animal since the 1970s, and is frequently bred in captivity. Females are larger and more colorful than males, and can reach four inches in length.

Radiated tortoise

Radiated tortoise, Astrochelys radiate

This beautiful tortoise was listed as an endangered species by the US Government in 1973. In the last decade, its status has deteriorated from being classified as vulnerable to extinction, to critically endangered. People who traditionally live in its dry spiny forest habitat have a taboo against harming them. Recently, people from other parts of Madagascar have collected tens of thousands each year to eat or sell, and much habitat has been destroyed. A captive breeding program was established in the 1970s, and more than 400 live in US collections.

Madagascar giant day gecko

Madagascar giant day gecko, Phelsuma madagascarensis grandis

Most of the more than 2,000 species of geckos are nocturnal. Many are colored like bark, or in earth tones. In contrast, as their name implies, the 40 or so species of day geckos of the Indian Ocean are diurnal, and include some of the most brilliantly colored of the world’s reptiles. Instead of the cat-like slitted pupils of other geckos, they have round ones, giving them a “friendly” expression. The “Geico Gecko” in commercials is a day gecko. While some species are almost extinct, this one is abundant and often bred in zoos and private collections.

Madagascar giant millipede

Madagascar giant millipede, Archispirostreptus sp.

There are at least 26 species of giant millipedes in this genus, found in Africa, Madagascar, and Arabia. Reaching 15 inches in length, they are the largest of the 10,000 species of millipedes, which form their own arthropod class, distinguished by having two pairs of legs on most of their segments. Giant millipedes have around 250 legs. In contrast to centipedes, they feed only on plants, often decaying leaves. Members of this genus do well in captivity, eating all sorts of fruits and vegetables. They may live at least seven years.

Warty chameleon

Warty chameleon, Furcifer verrucosus

Another very large chameleon of Madagascar, this lizard is slightly smaller than the very similar Oustalet’s chameleon, and differs in having fewer spikes in the crest on its back. It is also found higher up in trees.

Oustalet’s chameleon

Oustalet’s chameleon, Furcifer oustatleti

Reaching 27 inches in length, this is the biggest species of chameleon. Along with insects, it eats small birds and mammals. Like other chameleons it shoots out its tongue with tremendous force to capture prey. It has a wide range in Madagascar.

Panther chameleon

Panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis

While the familiar Green anole, often seen in local gardens, may be called the “American Chameleon”, it is actually related to iguanas and basilisks. True chameleons are an entirely Old World family. Of the 160 or so species, about half are native to Madagascar. While difficult to maintain, with proper care the Panther chameleon, from Madagascar’s tropical forests, does well in captivity. Its especially brilliant and variable colors make it popular with reptile breeders and zoos. Males can grow to 20 inches in length.

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Mossy leaf-tailed gecko

Mossy leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus henkeli

Like most geckos, this lizard is active at night, when it hunts for insects. During the day time it stays very still, with its head pointed down, depending on its bark-like camouflage. Found in Madagascar’s decreasing primary forest, it is considered vulnerable to extinction. Collecting for the live animal trade also threatens it. Only two eggs are laid at a time. Unknown to science until 1990, it is kept by a number of American zoos, with over 80 maintained as of 2011.

Madagascan big-headed turtle

Madagascan big-headed turtle, Erymnochelys madagascariensis

This critically endangered freshwater turtle was long thought to be in the otherwise South American genus Podocmemis, which includes the Arrau and Yellow-spotted side-necked turtles, also displayed at the DWA. More recent research indicates it belongs in its own genus, but that its closest living relatives are South American, evidence of Madagascar and South America both being part of the Gondwana Super-Continent until it split apart approximately 135 million years ago. Efforts are underway to establish a captive-breeding program.

African green pigeon

African green pigeon, Treron calva

The 23 species of Green pigeons are found in Africa, Asia and the Lesser Sundas. They are usually found in trees, where they eat fruit, especially figs. The green coloration is due to carotenoid pigments similar to those that produce the red and pink plumage of flamingos. While common over a wide area of Tropical Africa, this species is not often seen in zoos.