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.
Black-footed penguin, Spheniscus demersus
Living on both coasts of South Africa, as well as Namibia, this engaging bird was encountered by Vasco da Gama and his crew, as they rounded the Cape of Good Hope in 1497, becoming the first penguin known to Europeans. Also known as the African or Jackass penguin, this is the first penguin bred in zoos, in London in 1907, as well the first in the US, at the Bronx Zoo in 1915. Almost all of the more than 2,000 kept world-wide are captive-bred; more than 700 live in North America. With only 50,000 in the wild, this is an important resource.
Rock hyrax, Procavia capensis
Reminding some people of guinea pigs, or annoyed teddy bears, these ten pound mammals are considered by zoologists to be related to the ancestors of elephants and manatees. The skull displays similarities to these animals and this is also supported by DNA research. Found in many parts of Africa, as well as Arabia and the Middle East, they live in cliffs, kopjes, and other rocky areas, in groups of up to 80, led by a dominant male.
White-crested turaco, Tauraco leucolophus
Turacos are an entirely African family. Traditionally considered distant relatives of cuckoos, it has been proposed these fruit and bud-eating birds may be more closely related to owls. Found almost coast to coast across Africa, in a narrow ribbon of forest habitat, this species is popular in zoos and private collections because of its "Groucho Marx eyebrows" contrasting with its unique white head. Many have hatched since the first captive breedings in the 1970s.
Giant turaco, Corythaeola cristata
Although it is the most widely distributed of all of the 23 species of turacos, with a broad range in the forests of West and Central Africa, the Giant or Great blue turaco was very rare in zoos until the 1990s. In recent years, it has been bred repeatedly at several collections. This is one of several species of turacos that does not have the bright red wing feathers otherwise typical of this family.
Fischer's turaco, Tauraco fischeri
One of a number of rather similar looking mostly green turacos that have black facial markings, this species is distinguished by the broad rose-red margin to its crest. Found only in coastal forests, from Somalia to Tanzania, as well as Zanzibar, it was not bred in captivity until the 1990s. It is very rare in US zoos, but commonly displayed in Europe. Captive turacos easily live more than 20 years.
Shoebill, Balaeniceps rex
Also known as the Whalehead or Abu Markub ("Father of Shoes" in Arabic), this unique huge bird is specialized for seizing large muscular fishes such as lungfish, bichers, and walking catfish and hauling them out of their muddy habitats. It is thus dependent on vast marshes full of papyrus and other aquatic plants. The drainage of wetlands is a major threat to this naturally uncommon bird. It is thought there are no more than 8,000, distributed from the Sudan to Zambia. The first breedings outside of Africa did not take place until the last decade.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Species Survival Plan (SSP) indicates species that are listed as endangered by USFWS